In Wellborn, when that phrase is used, it’s literal.
Before the Panthers’ game against Munford on Thursday night, the field was named in that man’s honor: Jimmy Brooks Field.
From the green infield, hitting cages, even to the lights that he didn’t live to see shine for the first time, his name has always been associated with the program. Now, he sign will always say it but it was the words, spoken after the ceremony behind the fence with a backdrop of aluminum bat pings, that explained why it all came together.
“This place wouldn’t look anything like it does today if it weren’t for Jimmy Brooks,” said Wayne Carden, Class of 1993. “Even look at those signs on the backstop, all those area championships — you can tell when he became a part of the program.”
Brooks wasn’t an educator at Wellborn like the others — Ed Deupree, June Evans, John Adcock, Howard Waldrep — whose names adorn various athletic venues. Brooks was a parent with a love for the game.
Starting with his two sons, Roby and Wes, he began to transform baseball; as a coach, he went 184-5 during his little league tenure.
But before his sons every donned a varsity uniform, he began to lay the groundwork.
He started as a volunteer assistant in 1988 and coached up until 1996, those teams went 146-75 and were a part of six area titles and three Calhoun County tournament crowns.
It was a fitting tribute said his widow Pat Brooks, a secretary at the high school, but one she didn’t believe would ever happen.
But when she came to work Thursday morning and saw the sign for the first time, her dream was realized and the emotions were too much to hold back.
“I just lost it,” she said of the sign above the scoreboard joined with the schools mascot, a panther. “It’s breathtaking.”
Wellborn High principal Rick Carter said the process started two years ago as a goal of his to tie each program to its history. When he began asking around in the community for who this honor should be bestowed upon, the answer was quick and consistent. All that was left was approval by the Calhoun County Board of Education, which was unanimous, he said.
“The only hard part was keeping it a secret (from Pat),” he said.
On hand alongside Pat was her sons — both one-time college and minor league baseball players — and their wives and children, all back at the field that the father devoted so much time.
His two sons helped lay the sod on the red clay infield when they were still in elementary school and he and his brother, Randy, poured the concrete for the batting cage a week before his death, which from stemming from a brain aneurysm and car crash, on March 30, 1996.
Wes, now the coach head baseball coach at Oxford, was instrumental in getting lights on the field when he coached at his alma mater, his first head job out of college.
While time was spent on the field, Pat verified by the countless nights she’d bring him dinner, it was more about the kids who played on that diamond.
Roby said he never can recall an instance where his father turned down anyone who asked for help at getting better at the game. Even with that help came from someone in a different jersey.
“There’d be Sundays when he be helping the catcher from Saks or Anniston and then we’d be playing against that same guy the next week,” he said.
As more than a decade and a half has passed since his death, a new generation of kids are beginning to come through the program who never knew Jimmy Brooks and what assistant principal and Wellborn alum Rusty Thrasher called his “unselfish dedication to the program.”
Thrasher was a junior when Jimmy Brooks first came on board, and he said while his imprint on the program in those early years might not have translated right off into wins, it’s roots took a firm hold.
“There was so many little things he taught us about the game,” he said. “He’d stay here all night to help you if you wanted it.”
And now Jimmy Brooks will never have to leave.
Bran Strickland is Assistant Managing Editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3590 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.