Minor league personality in Kannapolis, North Carolina

This was not my first trip to Kannapolis, North Carolina, nor was it my first time to watch their minor league baseball team, the Intimidators, play. It was, however, my first time to meet and watch self-proclaimed cheerleader, the “Uh-huh Guy” perform.

His name is Paul Buchanan and he’s a 66-year-old retired school teacher and assistant principal. His primary role is chasing down foul balls, but it’s what he does with the baseballs that has gained him some notoriety.

“I got 222 balls last year and gave all of them away except five,” he told me. “The best game, I got 12 in one game. This year, I’ve gotten six, but I’ve only been here six times this season. In two of the games I got six. The crowd goes crazy when I catch a ball, but they go even crazier when give it away to a kid.”

But it’s not just shagging baseballs that he’s known for; it’s Buchanan’s cheers and taunts that have the fans shouting with him.

“In ’05 I started coming out here, and it became a kind of an exclamation mark at the end of a chant,” he said. “It wasn’t enough to just yell at the opponent ‘sit him down’ or ‘dirt ball,’ I put ‘uh-huh’ on the end of it and it kind of caught on. It echoes all over the stadium. I could do it right now, and you’ll hear it all over the ballpark.”

Buchanan’s chants have become so popular, he’s even made up a T-shirt with the definition of “Uh-huh” on the front – it includes a Bible reference. He was wearing one of these white T-shirts the night I interviewed him.

“I’ve given away over 2,000 of these T-shirts,” Buchanan said. “My sister created this definition of ‘Uh-huh’ because it’s not in the dictionary because it’s hyphenated. So she put this on there with John 10:10 which states, ‘the thief cometh to kill and destroy, but I (Christ) come that you might have life and have it more abundantly.’ It represents my enthusiasm of the game.”

As well as being a cheerleader, Buchanan is also an ambassador of baseball.

“I just want to try to bring joy [to the fans] and get the kids to watch every pitch,” he said. “I’ve been hit 47 times by foul balls. I’m usually where the ball is but I’ve missed it for one reason or another. The worst I’ve ever been hit was on the wrist. I got hit in the face one time, but it didn’t hurt as bad as being hit on the wrist.”

Buchanan also shags foul balls and chants “Uh-huh” at UNC-Charlotte baseball games. He loves baseball and football. What’s his favorite Major League team?

“Probably the White Sox since the Kannapolis Intimidators are affiliated with the White Sox,” he explained. The Intimidators are in the Single-A South Atlantic League.

One of the things I’ve loved about minor league baseball in all the years that I’ve worked in the game, watched the game, or traveled to far-flung ballparks, is each team seems to have its own characters. Buchanan is one of those, and it was a pleasure to meet him and watch him do his thing.

RAINED OUT IN D.C.

On this vacation journey, we not only visited family in North Carolina, but we also made the trek to northern Virginia to visit family outside the D.C. area. While there, I intended to take my nephew Brandon to a Washington Nationals game.

He’s a fan of the team because he lives in the area and they are always on television, but he’s never been to a game. I’m a fan of the Nationals because I used to work for the Montreal Expos and that franchise moved to our nation’s capital 10 years ago.

After battling rush hour traffic, a torrential Oklahoma-like thunderstorm, and a drive that’s normally 90 minutes but turned into two hours and thirty minutes, we finally arrived at Nationals Park. A mile away from the parking lot I received a text message from Nationals television broadcaster, Bob Carpenter, that read “Game postponed.”

Ugh! What a disappointment. It was to be my first time ever to see a Nationals game, and I was so looking forward to watching a game in their beautiful ballpark. On this night, my excitement was washed away in the Potomac River. I was also very disappointed that Brandon would miss this opportunity because of the weather.

So we drowned our sorrows in a bowl of chips and salsa at Tequila Coast, my favorite D.C. Mexican restaurant, right on Capitol Hill, and down the block from the House of Representatives Cannon Office Building.

I guess I could just plan to go to St. Louis the next time the Nationals are playing the Cardinals.

Nah, it just wouldn’t be the same. I went to several Montreal Expos games in Pittsburgh when I was a teenager, and that was pretty cool, but it was a special thrill the first time I actually got to see the Expos play in Olympic Stadium, in Montreal.

Maybe next year Brandon and I will get to see the Nationals play at home – weather permitting.