Last beers, last cheers and one last goodbye to Greer

It was almost like the old place didn't want us to say goodbye.

Greer Stadium hung on as long it could, in both a macro and micro sense.

Thirty-seven years old and always more function than form, the stadium that's been due for replacement for a decade was filled up for its farewell. More than 11,000 people — jammed in every soggy crevice, shoehorned into every too-small seat — streamed into Greer Wednesday, cars backed up on Wedgewood and Eighth Avenue. Even the back ways, the secret shortcuts of that clutch of cowbell-clanging season-ticket holders — Hamilton, Alloway, Ft. Negley Boulevard — were stop-and-go. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to bid adieu to the ballpark they'd eschewed for years.

It took four hours for the final game at Greer Stadium to reach its conclusion and befitting its host, the game was often ugly and often comforting.

It took an hour for the Nashville Sounds and Sacramento RiverCats to push through two innings, but there were no offensive fireworks. The teams combined for two hits across those two frames and far more walks and hit batsmen. Just as the patrons struggled to find a short beer line (or a beer at all), the pitchers struggled to find the plate.

Perhaps Sounds starter Jay Jackson had the yips, his nerves ragged because every event Wednesday had the potential to be capitalized: The Last Hit, The Last Out, The Last Home Run. Jackson — The Last Starter — and his RiverCat opposite number certainly made it last.

As the roaming vendors started to disappear — one, his cooler loaded with Bud Lights and carrying another case of Bud Light on top of that, wobbled under his load; minutes later, another carrying Mike's Hard Lemonades in what appeared to be Capri Sun pouches, said he had the last booze in the building — the Sounds started to come alive, taking a 5-2 lead in the sixth.

The beer cut-off neared. Typically, that's when the old place starts to empty. The beer cut-off was an illusion — most stands ran out of suds long before last call and those that still had it kept selling anyway, savvy concessionaires bending the rules, accepting advanced payment for brews to be consumed later.

So there was a buzz. There was the promise of romance. A final win in the final game (although a win would have gone a long way to making sure there would be playoff baseball) seemed ever more likely. Beloved Sound Tim Dillard, called up from AA Huntsville, should, by all rights, have closed out this one. Nashville's all-time leader in wins was the sentimental choice among those who knew the team to get The Last Out. Funny and charming and self-deprecating, Dillard should have had the ball at the end. For a moment, that storybook ending seemed likely.

As the game passed three and a half hours, the Sounds blew the lead. The RiverCats batted around for a six-run eighth, taking an 8-5 lead. There was still a chance for heroics. The Sounds loaded the bases in the ninth. All-mask-no-bat back-up catcher Lucas May was at the plate, in the game because the starting catcher had been pinch-hit for already. With an average in the low .200s and no home runs to his name, May would have been an unlikely hero.

But he would have been a perfect hero for that place. Greer has been bemoaned for years, but suddenly received mountains of affection as Nashville readies to move downtown into slicker digs with all the bells and whistles people have come to expect from their civically-funded stadia. (Greer, in another delightful anachronism, has a sign boasting that it was paid for with private money.) The ceilings probably won't leak at the new place either and the seats will be first-run, not hand-me-downs from old Comiskey Park, which was itself well past its prime when it sent the seats south.

But May struck out. Last-gasp fans, four hours and God knows how many beers in, sighed. The fireworks — the largest in the history of Greer — boomed. The fans who hung on through a sloppy and charmless game stuck around in that sloppy park.

It's not that Greer is without charm, it's just that its charm comes from its charmlessness. It's like a dive bar. To the regulars, it is beautiful in its shabbiness and the time there passes slowly and easily. And it is home. We have made memories there, 37 years of kids growing up from glove-toting tots to Miller Lite-swilling adults who can be relaxed and easy at a place so comfortable and threadbare. It's a place to be sleeveless in an increasingly fully-sleeved It City.

The new place — the slick downtown bar, to continue what has been a very drunken analogy — will have memories and ghosts of its own, but those ghosts will be in suits and polo shirts, dragging Croakies instead of chains. Everyone, even the ghosts, will wear sleeves.

(Photo of May's strikeout courtesy Bill Hobbs,