Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Buddy Pellerin stories
If you knew Buddy Pellerin, you had at least one Buddy Pellerin story.
I remember when his grandson, Kevin Donati, first entered what was Pittsfield South Little League. Pittsfield South was where my son Mike played, but he had aged out before Kevin put on the uniform.
So I was at Deming Field one day and saw Buddy in the dugout, helping coach his grandson's team, and it made me laugh. I told him why.
"Normally, you work your way up the coaching ladder," I said, recalling that Buddy Pellerin had coached at the high school and college levels before taking a spin in Little League. "You don't usually go backwards."
We all had a good laugh over that.
But it didn't matter what level Buddy coached at, he was one of the best at what he did.
And while we still mourn his passing, we can celebrate with some stories.
"I remember back when I was 14 years old and playing Babe Ruth League All-Stars. Buddy was our coach. We didn't know him very well," said Tom Grieve. "He was out to coach our team and a couple of guys were messing around. About 20 minutes into practice, he just walked off the field.
"We said 'Hey coach, where are you going?' He just kept on walking. So I ran over to him and said 'Where are you going?' He said 'If you guys want to play baseball, I'd love to be your coach. But if this is what I'm going to be coaching, I don't have any interest in coaching you guys.' He came back and we played much differently."
Grieve played for Pellerin on the 1966 Massachusetts state champion Pittsfield High School team. He went on to be drafted in the first round of the 1966 First Year Player Draft by the Washington Senators, and had a nine-year major league playing career. He went on to be the general manager of the Texas Rangers and is now a TV analyst with the Rangers.
Even after Grieve turned professional, he used to call on Buddy for advice.
"I can remember after I was playing professionally and after I was in the big leagues, going up to his attic on Northumberland Road, and he had a pitching machine that pitched whiffle balls," Grieve said. "He was working with me on my hitting up in his attic in the middle of December, throwing whiffle balls from 20 feet away.
"If you wanted to play and you wanted to learn, he would be there to teach you 365 days a year. If you couldn't find a place, he'd figure out a place to go do it."
One of my first beats at the Berkshire Eagle was high school softball, and I came to the beat at just about the same time Buddy Pellerin took over.
He was, from all accounts, an outstanding fast pitch softball player, and he translated that to the young women at Pittsfield. We called it "Buddy Ball," as the Generals slapped, bunted and ran their way into becoming a Western Massachusetts threat every year.
But what I remember most is that he wore a full uniform to coach softball, much like he had to when he coached Grieve in baseball. He was probably the only softball coach I ever saw in full uniform.
He also spent two years as a professional baseball coach, helping Brian Daubach and Jamie Keefe with the Pittsfield Colonials of the independent Can-Am League.
"It was amazing to have a man with that many years of baseball and a fire in his eye like he still could play. The knowledge of the game was there, right up until the end," Keefe told me in a phone conversation. "We talked baseball all the time."
Daubach played in the majors, Keefe was a former draft pick and had experience managing in independent ball. Buddy Pellerin didn't have their resume, but it didn't matter. Keefe said he had the respect of the players from the start.
"You always looked to Buddy for some info on something," Keefe said. "Whether it was working on a lead at first base, if he's seeing a guy's move a little bit better than they're seeing it. Anything with baseball — it could be a pitcher, it could be a catcher, it could be an infielder — there was nothing he didn't know about the game."
Grieve confirmed that in our conversation.
"Under different circumstances, being in a different place and a different time, he could have managed in the big leagues," Grieve said emphatically. "He could have been a manager like Billy Martin. He knew the game well enough to do that.
"I often wondered when I was a general manager why I didn't think about asking him if he wanted to manage our rookie league team down in Florida. As much as he meant to me and my friends and the guys I played high school with, he would have had the same impact on the young kids down there."
The impact here, however, was unmistakable.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.