Nashvillian Patrick Yarber has a laundry list of hockey experiences that would make most fans jealous. He’s attended 800 professional hockey games in close to 60 arenas and has a collection of about 250 game pucks. As a Predators season ticketholder since Day One, he’s made it to nearly 600 Preds home games.
Yarber even dreams of being a hockey play-by-play announcer, but there’s one limiting factor: He’s legally blind. “That’s kind of hard if you can’t see the puck,” he says dryly.
Yarber, 50, suffers from two progressive eye diseases: retinitis pigmentosa (“It’s where your peripheral vision keeps closing in on you and you’re basically down to what they call gun barrel vision,” he explains) and macular degeneration (“which affect the central part of your vision,” he says). He was forced to retire about a year ago, he says.
For him, tracking the puck is the hardest part of watching a game. “A lot of times I’m sitting there at the game and can’t really focus so I always have my Walkman with me so I can hear Pete [Weber] and [Terry Crisp] or Tom Callahan,” he says. “I carry binoculars with me. I have a game bag. Probably everyone there at the arena recognizes [me]. I carry these brown grocery bags with a handle, and I have my binoculars, I have my Walkman, I have my cane.”
Yarber grew up in Detroit, moved to Nashville in the mid-‘70s and was attending hockey games long before the Predators came to town. Whether it was Nashville’s minor league teams like the Knights and Nighthawks or trips to Detroit or St. Louis for NHL matches, he was an enthusiastic and educated fan once the Predators arrived. He bought season tickets and didn’t miss a preseason or regular season game for the first eight seasons.
“Even though I don’t necessarily see every little thing on the ice as it happens,” he says, “I know enough about what’s going on and with the lighting and so forth and the radio and my binoculars, I’m not starved for what’s going on on the ice by any means.”
A fan of the Red Wings since he was 5 years old, Yarber still has a fondness for his childhood team. Yet he found himself pulling hard for the Predators in their first round match-up against Detroit this playoff season. He says the Red Wings’ first visit to Nashville—amid an ice storm on December 23, 1998—is his favorite Predators memory.
“I figured there would be absolutely no one there because the minor league teams didn’t draw well, the Predators were only a couple of months old, the weather was treacherous… and we got in there and the place was absolutely packed,” Yarber recalls.
“I still think that was the most electric atmosphere that I’ve been in at a Predators game.”
A detailed person who keeps statistics about every game he attends, Yarber says the Predators’ most recent home game—Game 4 against Phoenix on May 4—marked the 800th professional hockey game that he’s seen live. It’s a love for the sport and its speed that keeps him coming back as a Predators season ticketholder year after year.
“Maybe it’s my therapy, maybe it’s my mental well-being medicine or whatever you want to say, but there’s just something about coming down to the Bridgestone Arena,” he says. “I see pretty much the same people that work there all the time. There’s just something about the atmosphere, the brightness, the coolness. And I think Barry Trotz is an awesome coach. If they played 80 [home] games a year, I’d come to 80 games a year.”