A life dedicated to the diamond

Coach: The new baseball field and scoreboard at Pikesville High School have been dedicated to Jack Gray, a volunteer coach for several generations of players.

May 09, 2000|By Lynn Anderson | Lynn Anderson,SUN STAFF

He believes in the luck of an old, worn hat and the power of a perfect pitch in the face of a suicide squeeze.

Jack Gray, a volunteer who has coached varsity baseball at Pikesville High School in Baltimore County since the 1970s, has spent a large chunk of his 74 years in dusty dugouts and clover-spotted fields.

Recently, the school's staff and students dedicated their new baseball field and scoreboard to Gray, who has offered gentle advice to several generations of high school players.

"It's an honor I didn't expect," said Gray, a die-hard who lives for the game. Somewhere, a baseball gene must be mixed up in the spiral of his DNA.

Gray's dad pitched for the San Francisco Seals, a minor league team, before World War I. All but one of his seven siblings got into the sport. Two of his sisters played on women's teams that toured the Philadelphia-New Jersey area in the 1940s.

"The Phillies were scouting me, but then I hurt my arm and they dropped me like a hot potato," Gray recalled of his glory days, a time when his pitching arm didn't ache and the smack of a fast ball in his mitt didn't throw him off balance.

Despite his disappointment, Gray stuck with baseball. He and his wife, Dorothy, planned the births of their three children -- two of whom attended Pikesville High -- around the baseball season. Together, they took in many Orioles games.

"Every year, on March 1, she'd tell me to get out of the house and go play baseball," Gray said of his wife, who died in 1993.

Gray's five grandsons all pitch.

A few of them catch, too. One of his two granddaughters played softball.

When Pikesville's former varsity baseball coach, Michael S. Bruner, now an assistant principal at the school, started working with the team about two decades ago, it was clear that Gray "just came with the team."

"He was a volunteer coach before such a title existed," said Bruner, who relied on Gray to call pitches and work out pitching mechanics. "He is more than willing to help anyone play better ball."

When Gray isn't coaching, he's kibitzing with parents, who treat him like a full-time coach, said Bruner. So do the players. Kids who start the season calling him Mr. Gray wind up calling him Jack.

"He never yells," said Bruner. "He just gives suggestions. He knows how to work with teen-agers."

Today, he works with the new coach, Nick DePace. "The only problem is, he's a New Yorker," said Gray, who likes to tease DePace because he is a Yankees fan.

If one year someone at the school tells Gray to stay at home, he'll comply, he said.

But no one expects that to happen soon.

"Jack never misses a game," Bruner said.

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