When the notice for jury duty arrived, I thought perhaps I would escape as easily as I did a few years ago when a lawyer dismissed me – no doubt due to my years of being a courtroom reporter on several Southern newspapers.
But this time, I was a prospect for a rape trial and the lawyers seemed to be concerned about other backgrounds. During voir dire, the process of meticulously interviewing each prospective juror, the prosecutor was most impressed with one man named Kevin Millwood. “Are you the same Kevin Millwood who pitched the one-hit game during last month’s playoffs for the Atlanta Braves?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he answered politely.
The entire courtroom perked up. “Well, sir,” she continued. “I’ll have you know this is the first time in years that my husband has expressed any interest in coming to work with me.” Kevin made the final cut, as did I. So did a man named Perry Mason, who we later elected foreman. We now had a jury of nine men and three women. Before opening arguments, we were dismissed for lunch.
As we walked down the hall, I envisioned a crowd running up to Kevin to get his autograph or to shake his hand. The tension was building as we silently walked past the courtroom doors. Suddenly I could hear footsteps running down the hall behind us, no doubt one of Kevin’s fans.
“Sir, sir!” a man was calling. I felt a hand on my shoulder. “Mr. Schroder,” the man said to me. I turned around, surprised. “Yes,” I said to the young, well-dressed man. “I just wanted to say hello and tell you how much I enjoy your paper. I just graduated from law school and have to observe this trial. When I heard them call your name, I recognized it because I live in Peachtree Hills in Buckhead and have been reading your paper for years. I just want to tell you how glad I am that you all are doing well now. Keep up the good work.”
I beamed all the way to lunch.
Later, in the jury room, we all sat around reading the morning newspaper. Kevin’s name was on the front page as possibly being one of the players to be traded to Seattle for Ken Griffey Jr. Finally, someone asked Kevin about the possible trade. Another asked about the Yankees series, and we talked about the Mets. But no one had the guts to ask for an autograph.
Finally, on our third day, a talkative woman, who had always sat next to Kevin and engaged him in conversation, began to talk about Christmas shopping. Kevin said he did most of his in the clubhouse when the Nike catalog guy came through. She said, “You keep mentioning the clubhouse, do you work there?” The room fell silent. Surely, she knew what we had been talking about for days.
“Yes,” he said.
“Is it a golf club? Are you a golfer?” We all laughed nervously.
“No, ma’am. I play on the Atlanta Braves.”
“Are you the pitcher?” she asked.
“Oh, well, then you have to give me your autograph.”
Suddenly, everyone else started pulling out items they had been quietly storing: a baseball, a Braves cap, a ticket stub to a World Series game he pitched. Someone passed him a copy of our newspaper, which I had brought for the jurors to read. Then everyone started passing copies of our newspaper for him to sign, including me. He signed the front page of every one.
In our business, we always hope people will hang on to our issues. Thanks to Kevin, I know that issue will be kept for a long time.
Photo: Kevin Millwood when he was with the Atlanta Braves