George "Buddy" Pellerin remembered for lasting impact on Berkshire County sports
Dick Lenfest Sr. remembers vividly what it was like to coach against George "Buddy" Pellerin.
"He was sort of the mecca of baseball knowledge and enthusiasm. Even though I was in a small school, I wanted to schedule him as much as I could," said the former Lee High School baseball coach and athletic director. "It was great experience playing against him.
"He was just such a great baseball man."
Pellerin, who coached young people in Pittsfield and Berkshire County since 1959, died Monday morning of natural causes. He was 77.
Pellerin's coaching resume reads like a Who's Who and a What's What of youth, scholastic and collegiate sports. His career ran the gamut, from coaching Little League and Babe Ruth baseball to high school softball to coaching the baseball and softball teams at his alma mater, North Adams State College — now MCLA.
He was a member of the Massachusetts Baseball Coaches Hall of Fame, the High School Softball Coaches Hall of Fame, the UNICO Hall of Fame and the MCLA Hall of Fame.
"In all my career, I have never met anybody who loved baseball or was more passionate about teaching it than Buddy was," said former Pittsfield High School baseball standout Tom Grieve.
Grieve was on Pellerin's 1966 state championship baseball team, a team that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
"[I know] people that are close, but no one that was better," said Grieve, who was drafted by the Washington Senators in the first round (sixth overall) of the 1966 First Year Player Draft. Grieve went on to play nine seasons in the majors, was the Texas Rangers' general manager from 1984-94 and has been a TV color analyst with the Rangers for the past 21 seasons.
"Every time we get together, we basically say the same thing — how happy we were that we won the state championship. We're glad we won it for ourselves, but mostly for him," Grieve said during an interview Tuesday night at Fenway Park, before the Rangers-Red Sox game. "What he put into it, how hard he worked, the joy that we saw on his face every time we got together and how much he loved each one of us. It just meant so much to him that we were so grateful that we were able to get a couple of lucky bounces and win that state championship."
Pellerin coached at all three city of Pittsfield high schools. He was a head softball coach at Pittsfield and St. Joseph, and coached football at PHS, Taconic and St. Joe. He also coached football at Cranwell Prep, in addition to being a softball assistant coach at Taconic.
In addition to his high school, college and youth league coaching, Pellerin also spent two years as an assistant coach with the Pittsfield Colonials of the independent professional Can-Am League. He was a fixture at first base for teams managed by Brian Daubach and Jamie Keefe.
While there is no doubt that Pellerin was best known for coaching baseball, his tenure as a high school football coach was, in the memories of rivals, very interesting to say the least.
"The biggest thing with Buddy, coaching against him, you didn't know what the hell was going to happen," said Gary Campbell Sr. Campbell had coached against Pellerin while at Wahconah and St. Joseph.
"He would come up with plays or schemes that were something you had to try to prepare for," said Campbell. "It was really hard to do that with Buddy. You knew he always had a play for a big score, something that would come out of left field."
Pellerin is one of eight high school baseball coaches to be enshrined in the MBCA Hall of Fame, and one of three who coached at Pittsfield High School. Art Fox was enshrined in 1973, Pellerin in 1988 and Bob Moynihan in 2007.
Coincidentally, in 2013, Pellerin spent the season as an assistant coach under Moynihan at Pittsfield.
"I played for him in high school and when I started coaching, I was his assistant," Moynihan said in an Eagle article written in 2013. "Thirty some odd years later, he's back."
In 2012, Pellerin and Mike Winston were on Bob Shade's coaching staff with the Pittsfield Babe Ruth 15-year old All-Star team that went to the world series in Arkansas.
Chad Shade, Bob's son, played on that All-Star team and then was on the PHS team in 2013.
"Having him coach for our high school team and our World Series Pittsfield Babe Ruth team was a blast," Chad Shade said. "I remember when he was about 70. He was diving back to the base. That's just the kind of guy he was.
"The things he taught us on and off the field, I'll appreciate them for the rest of my life."
Pellerin didn't just coach baseball and football. A long-time, fast-pitch softball player himself, Pellerin was the head coach at Pittsfield and St. Joseph, along with a one-year stint at MCLA, where he led the team to a 22-15 record.
He was also an assistant at Taconic when Shelia LaBarbera led the Braves to a Western Mass. Division I title in 2005. The pitcher was Kara Nilan, who was the 2007 Gatorade High School Softball Player of the Year in Massachusetts. Pellerin coached her, and to close a big circle, also coached her father Cliff on that 1966 PHS state title baseball team.
Jessica Martin, the former Jessica Gurney, played against Pellerin when she was a pitcher at Mount Greylock. She graduated from Greylock in 2001 and was an All-New England pitcher at Connecticut, graduating in 2005.
"Most of the time I got to spend around legendary coach Buddy Pellerin was from an opposing dugout, and he was the kind of adversary you hated to love," Martin wrote on her Facebook page. "Berkshire County's softball teams were all made better simply for having to face him and his tough PHS girls.
"More important than the wins and losses though, Buddy was an incredible human being. He would go the extra mile teaching any youngster who was smart enough to soak in the wisdom."
Like Lenfest, former Drury coach Tom McGrath is in the MBCA Hall of Fame with Pellerin.
"I probably learned more about coaching from Buddy Pellerin than anybody else," said McGrath.
The Drury mentor, who has a state championship banner hanging in the school's gymnasium, said that learning on the fly and learning from Pellerin was a necessity.
"I was a first-year coach out of college, never coached a game in my life. Here I am coaching a high school baseball team," McGrath said. "Every time we played Buddy, I studied him like a hawk. I considered him to be the top baseball coach, and he was.
"Everything he did, I brought back in my mind to practice the next day or to a game. The intensity and the enthusiasm, he was one of a kind, really."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.
Services: Calling hours for Buddy Pellerin will be on Thursday from 4 to 7 p.m. at the Dery Funeral Home in Pittsfield. A Liturgy of Christian Burial will be on Friday at noon at St. Charles Church in Pittsfield. In lieu of flowers, the family requests consideration of donations to the Buddy Pellerin Field at Clapp Park project, in the care of the Dery Funeral Home. For more on the project, visit www.pellerinfield.org.
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