Roy Oswalt opens a restaurant, and several towns celebrate.
Several months ago, Roy Oswalt introduced me to a friend visiting Minute Maid Park. “Where are you from?” the friend asked. “Ohio,” I said. “Ohio?” he responded. “Do you own any land there?” I said, “You mean, like the bedroom at my parents’ house where I grew up?” I answered. Roy laughed. “She’s a city girl,” he said. “She doesn’t know land.”
But I sure do now. I just spent a whirlwind 36 hours in central Mississippi, about 90 minutes from Jackson. This is home for Oswalt, and it contains everything that is important to him — his family, his ranch, his community, and now, his brand new restaurant.
“Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse” opened its doors to the public for the first time late Friday afternoon, and I was grateful to be there to see the finished product. Roy cleared the land for the restaurant with the bulldozer Drayton McLane gave him, and now, a year later, that small area of land is a quaint 24-table eatery perfect for a night out with the family.
I’ve heard plenty about Oswalt’s hometown of Weir, Miss. and the ranch he owns in neighboring Kosciusko, aptly named “Double 4 Ranch.” But with all of the stories he’s told over the years, I couldn’t really picture it. So this seemed like as good a time as any to see it up close (through the lens of my ever-present camera, of course).
But after entering the gate at Double 4 Ranch and traveling some distance down a winding road, this is what was before me:
Big thanks to Roy’s friend and ranch partner Joey Barton, who gave me the grand tour of the ranch and was a terrific host throughout the excursion. The ranch consists of 1,000 acres of high-fenced hunting grounds, so obviously, I got the abbreviated tour. Still, I saw plenty of white-tailed deer that comprise the majority of the controlled wildlife at the ranch. Most of the time, the deer ran from us, and that was apparently my fault — deer get used to the people that are around all the time, but they can pick up a new scent from hundreds of yards away. And they don’t particularly like visitors. (I didn’t take it personally.)
Roy spends the majority of his time during the offseason at the Double 4 Ranch, and now, I can understand why. While I am without question a newbie to country living and admittedly don’t fully grasp the lure of hunting, fishing and ranching, I can certainly appreciate the sheer beauty and peacefulness that only this lifestyle can offer.
I live near downtown, six blocks from the dreaded train tracks. I wake up three times a night to horns blowing. I spend half the year in noisy hotels and I would never dare travel without my earplugs.
Standing on the balcony at Roy’s ranch, all I could see was a clear lake and acres of land, and all I heard were crickets. I thought, I’d pay significant money for just a week’s worth of nights this quiet.
Roy generously housed four of us at the lodge — myself, plus three colleagues from the agency that represents him. Once we were all present and accounted for, Joey led the caravan to Homeplate. On the way, however, Joey decided to take us on a slight detour through Weir, to give us a tour of three significant landmarks from Roy’s childhood: his high school, and the baseball and football field where his athletic career began in earnest.
The high school:
Below is a picture of the Weir High School baseball field — not only did Roy pitch on that mound, but his dad, Billy, cleared the land when Weir decided to start a baseball team during Roy’s sophomore year.
The school may be small, but the championships are plentiful, as these banners show. One of my favorite Oswalt football stories originated here. Apparently, he conducted himself in a somewhat unsportsmanlike fashion during one particularly high-scoring game. As Roy ran into the end zone, he turned around to face his opponents and jogged in backward, all the while pretending he was shooting guns into the ground — “Pew! Pew! Pew!”
The press box…I love this.
We arrived to the restaurant before 5 p.m., and the place was already packed. Keep in mind, this isn’t like Westheimer Road in Houston, where restaurants are as plentiful as orange construction barrels. Roy’s main reason for even building a restaurant was to give people a nice place to get a good steak and seafood dinner without having to first drive more than 40 minutes to get there.
Homeplate Steak and Fish is central to four towns — French Camp, Weir, Kosciusko and Ackerman. Judging from the constant flow of patrons Friday night, it’s clear people from all directions are excited about the convenient location as well.
Below: Roy poses with his agent, Bob Garber.
(Random interjection — Oprah Winfrey is from Kosciusko, the city where Oswalt’s ranch is located. That would explain the Oprah Winfrey Road we passed on our way to the restaurant.)
Now, I think we can all agree that usually when a famous sports figure gets into the restaurant business, his actual involvement includes two things: a) lending his name to the project and b) cashing the check he gets for lending said name. That is far from the case with Homeplate Fish and Steakhouse.
Not only did Roy have a direct hand in building the establishment, he was front and center during business hours, working the cash register, seating people, overseeing the kitchen operations and socializing with the patrons.
Opening night was a family affair. His wife, Nicole, ran non-stop for hours, cleaning tables, refilling iced tea and taking orders, as did her sister. Both sets of parents were also there to offer moral support.
(Nicole did stop long enough to entertain us with the story about how she and Roy met. They went to different high schools, but they met at a choir convention during a field trip to Mississippi State. Yes, choir. Apparently, every student had to put in chorus time, even the jocks.)
There was something endearing about watching Roy and Nicole attempt to operate the cash register:
That’s his dad, Billy.
Overview of the restaurant
Interesting twist: When it became obvious they were slightly short-handed in the kitchen, Roy’s agent, Bob, rolled up his sleeves and washed dishes. For three hours. At some point, Mike, who works with Bob, jumped in to help as well.
This is the special 44 oz. steak, a nod to Roy’s uniform number. To get some perspective, I put my 6 oz. filet next to it.
As much as I loved the ranch and the restaurant and the tour of his tiny hometown, what struck me the most is how much Roy simply blends in. In Weir, he’s not Roy Oswalt, superstar pitcher. He’s just Roy, a hometown kid who has no intention of living anywhere else. Because he’s happiest when he’s out of the public eye, he’s clearly in a good place.
I just hope I can visit again.
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