The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

The Annandale pitcher: A tribute to my dad

My dad, Marshall E. George; his wife, Martha Berry George; and the author, circa 1948

My dad, Marshall E. George; his wife, Martha Berry George; and the author, circa 1948

[Editor’s note: I presented the following at my father’s memorial service on January 11, 2002. Nothing’s changed – except, sometimes, I miss him more than ever, especially when I see him staring back at me in the bathroom mirror.]

The Annandale pitcher was the fastest anyone had ever seen. Tricky, too. Sometimes, the ball seemed to hop just before it broke.

My dad and his teammates on the Fairlington Methodist Church softball team were no match for the Annandale pitcher. He didn’t strike out everyone, but the best anybody could do was get a piece of it. Dad struck out at least once. Then he began to study the Annandale pitcher.

It was maybe 1956 or 1957. I was nine or 10 years old and loved my job as bat boy for the church softball team. I enjoyed having something in common with these men, many of them, like my father, World War II veterans but still young enough to enjoy playing fast-pitch softball.

They had grown up during the Depression, survived war, gotten jobs and started families.

Bob Lewis was a high school coach who sometimes refereed my Pop Warner football games. He bought our house when we left Virginia in 1961.

I don’t know what Kelly Purdue did for a living, but one day we carried him off the field with a broken ankle. Johnny Fitz, the fastest grown man I had ever seen, played centerfield and stole bases. I wish I could recall the name of the FBI agent who stopped by the house one Sunday after church to give me a baseball he’d shagged as a foul ball at old Griffith Stadium in downtown Washington, D.C.

Then there was Dad, the tall, quiet Marine Corps major who sometimes pitched, sometimes played first base, sometimes right field. Always batted third or fourth. He was a Texas boy far from home, farther than he wanted to be. He had been since he joined the Marines the day after Pearl Harbor. Married. Two children. We lived in a small house on Culpepper Street in Arlington, Va.

And this Annandale pitcher was giving Dad fits. He studied him from behind the plate when Fairlington came to bat. He was determined, as he said later, “to get a hit off this guy.” He found a fatal flaw – just before the pitcher’s high inside curve hopped toward the plate, it seemed to hang for an instant. That’s where my dad would strike.

The game was at Greenbriar Park, which included three large terraces that held three football fields, side by side, or three softball backstops – two at this end and one at the other. No fences, but just past the third terrace loomed a tall, steep hill covered with grass.

The game was almost over. Fairlington had all but lost. Dad came to the plate hoping for that high inside curve. When it came he hit it hard. The ball soared in a high arc over the three terraces and landed halfway up the grass-covered hill. The Annandale left fielder didn’t take a step. He just gawked as the ball seemed to go into orbit off my Dad’s bat.

A game was underway at the third softball field, but no one had a clue that a homer from Field No. 1 had just cleared their game on Field No. 3.

I was stunned then ecstatic. I whooped as I watched the ball land no less than 500 feet away. When I looked back to our field, Dad was trotting past second base with that little grin he used to get when he was pleased. I picked up his bat and was among the Fairlington teammates who greeted him as he crossed the plate.

“Dad!” I said. “What a great hit!”

“Well, I really got hold of that one, didn’t I?” he replied.

Dad sought out the Annandale pitcher after the game.

“Congratulations,” Dad told the pitcher. “That’s quite an arm you’ve got there.”

The pitcher replied: “And you swing quite a bat. No one’s ever gotten a hit like that off me.”

“Well,” Dad said, “I guess I just got lucky.”

It was so typical of my self-effacing father that he would dodge praise. It was not part of his value system to dance in the end-zone or hold his finger in the air shouting, “I’m No. 1.”

My father, Marshall E. George, was decent, honest and courageous. He honored the uniform he wore, loved his family and kept his word. He never let me down. He never lied to me, and he would have defended my life with his own.

I have never thought of him as my hero despite the 7-foot stature he achieved that day in Greenbriar Park; but if someday I am 80 years of age and half the man he was, I shall die as peacefully and happily as he did on Monday afternoon.

I love him. I shall remember him every day for the rest of my life.

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