Jim Tessmer sat on a top row at Mercer’s University Center -- Section 111, Row R, Seat 21 to be exact.
Only a few other folks were inside the giant, brick building. The place will be close to standing-room-only when the Bears return for a pair of home basketball games later in the week.
Jim and I spent the afternoon discussing everything from baseball to airplanes to cooking to raising children.
We also talked about attitude.
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“You will always miss 100 percent of the shots you don’t take,” he said, his eyes looking across the basketball court below.
Jim is not the first person to say that, but he has had no fear of shooting from anywhere on the floor for most of his 56 years.
I have known Jim since 1987 and have great admiration for him. He is an all-around great guy, cheerful and sincere, and one of the hardest-working souls in this town.
Jim was born with cerebral palsy. He was almost 5 years old before he walked. He wore braces on his legs until he was 10. The cruel kids called him “Cripple.” When he was 14, he had surgery to help correct his balance. He still carries the scars from the 95 stitches in his legs. His right ankle will not bend.
But he has never used his disability as a crutch. He doesn’t throw pity parties with chips and salsa. To this day, he refuses to get a handicap sticker. He parks out there between the striped lines like the rest of us.
Jim has a full-time job as events coordinator for the Mercer University athletic department. There are days when he wears so many hats he could open a used cap store. February and March are especially busy months, with the overlap of the winter and spring sports seasons.
He puts in another 23 hours on the weekend graveyard shift at WPEZ-FM, where he has been a late-night disc jockey since 1989. And he manages to squeeze enough minutes out of each week to serve as secretary and edit the weekly newsletter for the Macon Kiwanis Club, which named him Kiwanian of the Year in 1994.
No, Jim could never be considered a candidate for couch potato salad. Even if he wanted to kick back now, he couldn’t. He and his wife, Melissa, adopted four children from a Texas family in 2007. So there are daddy duties.
He grew up as an only child in Wallingford, Conn. His parents both worked for Pratt & Whitney Aerospace.
“They never told me I couldn’t do anything,” Jim said. “When the other kids made fun of me, my parents said it was their handicap, not mine, and to try to be a better person than that.”
After graduating from college, he worked as an aircraft engine inspector for three years until he was laid off. He begged the nearby Waterbury Reds minor league baseball team to get his foot in the door. They put him to work doing everything from pouring beer at the concession stand to tearing ticket stubs at the turnstiles.
He later was hired by the Pawtucket Red Sox and spent a year on the staff of New York Yankees Magazine, working in the bowels of Yankee Stadium. Those were challenging times, too. The first night he lived in the Bronx, he looked out his window and saw gang members setting fire to a car parked next to his.
He bounced around with minor league teams in Watertown, N.Y., Jacksonville, Fla., and Charleston, W.Va., before coming to Middle Georgia in 1987 as assistant general manager for the Macon Pirates.
“The only thing I knew about Macon was something I had seen on TV about the Cherry Blossom Festival,” he said. “People told me it wasn’t a good sports town. It had a great ballpark (Luther Williams Field), and players like Pete Rose and Vince Coleman had played here. But there wasn’t much support.”
At the time, that held true. Baseball was a hard sell. He would make business calls for outfield billboard advertising, and folks would hang up on him. After the season, the Pirates sailed off to Augusta, and Jim left for a job with the minor league affiliate in Salem, Va.
But the following year, he felt the tug of Macon again. He came back and began working at WPEZ. He took jobs as a convenience store clerk and as a night auditor at the Shoney’s Inn in Perry, while the Georgia National Fairgrounds was being built.
With no promise of landing a team, he joined a core of local fans and spent 18 months leading the charge to bring back baseball. He even attended baseball’s winter meetings.
“I saw the potential,” he said. “There was a core of passionate people here who believed that if we worked hard, we could make it happen.”
He was hired as sales manager when the Macon Braves came in 1991 and stayed until the team moved to Rome after the 2002 season. He was an integral part of one of the smallest, but friendliest and most well-organized front-office staffs in the game.
Jim has been at Mercer since 2006. A year after he took the job, he and Melissa began going through the adoption process. Their daughter, Paloma, is now 15, and sons Mark 12; Kevin, 10, and Marshall, 8, are all Mexican-Americans.
The Tessmers have given their children stability and love.
“Your priorities change when you have a family,” Jim said. “I try to be home for every meal that I can. I told my daughter I can’t do anything about the first eight years of her life, but it’s up to us to handle the rest. We have told them they are who they are and not to let anybody judge them.”
Some days are difficult for him physically. He might try to lift something too heavy. “The back is always the first to go,” he said, laughing. “And my knees.”
The guy is a plugger. It is an inspiration to watch him unafraid to take those shots. “I can’t run a marathon, but I could try to walk one,” he said. “It just takes longer. I am going to make the effort.”
Most of us would have a hard time walking a mile in his shoes.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.