Guerry Clegg commentary: A perfect farewell to Tony Pierce

sports@ledger-enquirer.comFebruary 3, 2013 

A white casket with red baseball seams straddled home plate.

The weather was perfect -- at least as perfect as February can provide -- for baseball.

There were a few tears, but they were uplifted by lots of laughter. There was good preaching, a message that's never too late for redemption.

Generations of ball players, past and present -- some long retired and now parents themselves, some wearing their Young Guns uniforms -- came to the ball field to say goodbye to their friend, the man who touched countless lives.

Perfect. Absolutely perfect.

This was exactly how Tony Pierce would have wanted it. His five children saw to that. Everything in the world that mattered to Pierce was in plain view Sunday on the Bull Creek Babe Ruth baseball field. His salvation. His family -- whether by blood or baseball. And a perfect day to play.

Pierce was just 67, but his health had declined in recent years. He loved his family, and kids, and baseball. Lessons provided him some income, but he would have done it for free if he didn't need to pay the bills. Pierce kept things real, which occasionally bothered some folks around Northern Little League or Bull Creek Babe Ruth.

Twelve years ago, we sat down at Taco Bell on Macon Road and Pierce shared his thoughts on Little League politics. His team was 21-1 and headed for the city championship. But he had ruffled some feathers, not because he played favorites, but rather because he wouldn't. Nor did he apologize for wanting to win.

By this point, Pierce had already won a Babe Ruth World Series and was a successful travel ball coach with the Young Guns. He had started in Little League with his boys Tony Jr. and Root, and returned to Little League for one reason.

"I wanted to prove," he said, "that you don't have to yell at kids to win."

No one could dispute Pierce's baseball pedigree. He had signed with the Kansas City Athletics in 1964 right out of Jordan High School and within three years was in the big leagues, joining Catfish Hunter, Blue Moon Odum and Jim Nash. He almost certainly would have been a key member of that Oakland A's dynasty of the '70s had his elbow held up, or if Dr. Frank Jobe had developed his revolutionary Tommy John surgery a decade earlier.

Instead, Pierce's destiny was to teach the game he loved so much. He taught hundreds of kids how to pitch, how to hit, how to field.

Ty Kelley, now working his way up in the Angels' organization, played for Pierce's first travel ball team.

"He taught me how to pitch and taught me pitches I still throw today," Kelley said.

"He taught me how to throw my curve ball," said Kyle Carter. "I still throw it the same way he taught me."

But Pierce taught more than just the mechanics. He taught the kids how to play the game. How to walk, how to talk, how to compete, how to think like a ballplayer.

Practices and games ended with long talks on the outfield grass.

The truth is, Pierce was at home on the ball field, and he never wanted to leave.

Pierce was more than just a good baseball man. He was a good man, period, one with a big heart.

Tracy Obert's son played for Pierce.

"I remember freezing one evening at a baseball game," said Obert. "He was so kind to give me a Tony Pierce signature jacket to wear. When I tried to return the jacket, he told me it was a gift."

Tony Pierce had a gift for giving.

-- Guerry Clegg is an independent correspondent. Write to him at sports@ledger-enquirer.com.

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