Longtime umpire Peanut McDonald calls a game at Atmore’s Tom Byrne Park .
Longtime umpire Peanut McDonald calls a game at Atmore’s Tom Byrne Park .

Calling the shots

Published 9:34pm Friday, April 5, 2013

When James “Peanut” McDonald passed away earlier this year, his death was mourned by not just his family and friends, but literally hundreds of young men and women who remember him well from his 35 years serving as a referee and umpire for local basketball, baseball and football games all over south Alabama.

Murray Johnson, district commissioner and league president of Atmore’s Cal Ripken baseball program, said McDonald was a man that made a mark wherever he was.

“I can’t remember exactly how long he was out there, but I can tell you this, there’s never been a better one,” Johnson said of McDonald’s job as an umpire. “He was firm and fair. He controlled the ball game. For that, there was respect for him. He earned respect from the players, coaches and the fans.”

Johnson said, up until around the mid 1990s, McDonald was a fixture at Tom Byrne Park, Escambia County High School and many other schools and parks in the area.

“He was doing it before I even took over,” Johnson, who has been commissioner for 40 years, said. “He was a very dedicated person to whatever he did. He was a dedicated Christian and a member of First Baptist Church since he was 17. He was also extremely dedicated to his family.”

And that family, which includes McDonald’s wife, Becky, daughters, Jessie, Felecia and Becca and son, Stephen, were joined by men and women from all over the area whose lives were touched through McDonald’s years of service at his memorial and funeral last month.
In 1993 McDonald’s family stood with him as he was honored at a W.S. Neal, T.R. Miller baseball game for his 35 years of service, as well as his time spent as the president of the Brewton Baseball Association. McDonald worked baseball, basketball and football games in the areas for more than three decades. During the service, McDonald told a packed crowd the thing he would miss the most about the job was the kids.

“He loved the game,” Johnson said. Whether it be baseball football or basketball. He refereed baseball and football for our programs. He also refereed in high school baseball, basketball and football all over south Alabama. I think he even did some community college basketball.”

Johnson said McDonald, who retired from Smurfit Stone Paper Mill was not only dedicated to whatever he was a part of, but to the people that were a part of the organizations he was affiliated with.

“If peanut was your friend, you had a friend for life,” he said.

McDonald passed away March 16 at the age or 72, but after years of teaching young men and women about the rules of sports, his memory and legacy is one that is sure to last for years to come.

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