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What you need to know for 08/17/2017

McAvoy put local teams on national softball map

McAvoy put local teams on national softball map

Services will be held Saturday for Thomas J. “Mac” McAvoy of Stillwater, a former Major League Baseb

Services will be held Saturday for Thomas J. “Mac” McAvoy of Stillwater, a former Major League Baseball player who managed local fast-pitch softball teams to national and world prominence and later was inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame.

McAvoy, 74, died Saturday, following a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer.

During a managing career that spanned five decades, McAvoy’s teams, including those carrying the sponsor names of Peckham’s Place, Lieber’s and Heflin Builders, not only dominated local fast-pitch leagues, but had even greater success traveling to tournaments across the United States, Canada and Dominican Republic.

During a decade under the Peckham’s banner, McAvoy’s charges were regular powers on the state and regional level, and reached the nationals five times. Peckham’s also won league championships five times in seven years at Sportsman’s Park in Schenectady.

“What a nice man he was,” said Jack Peckham, proprietor of Peckham’s Place in Scotia, who kept in regular contact with McAvoy during his final years.

Peckham recalled the outstanding lineup that McAvoy had assembled, including the likes of Tom Spohr, Butch Gilbert and Cubby Smith on the mound, as well as slugger Stan Stringham, a six-time triple crown winner at Sportsman’s.

Other regulars included Don Stringham, Ed Pendt, Jack Kalinkiewicz, Mike Wells, John Doemel, Denny Domkowski, Bob Vellano, Bob Belizzi and T.K. Veitch.

For tournaments, McAvoy would bolster his pitching staff with the likes of Billy Morse of Ithaca and Jimmy Smith of Colchester, Vt.

Many of the same stars carried over to the Heflin’s era, when Mc­Avoy’s teams won three AAU titles and were competitive in several ISC World tournaments.

McAvoy, a Brooklyn native, showed promise in the major leagues, but his career was cut short by injuries. The rangy left-hander signed with the Washington Senators in 1955, and his biggest thrill was striking out Boston Red Sox great Ted Williams in a spring training game his rookie year.

McAvoy made his big-league debut on the final day of the 1959 season in relief of Jim Kaat, and pitched 22⁄3 scoreless innings in a loss to the Red Sox. Once again, he had to face Williams.

“He was the first man I ever faced in the major leagues,” said McAvoy in an 1981 interview with The Gazette, “and getting him out was a big thrill. He flied to center the first time, and the second time, I got him to ground to second. He was my idol. Just to have the chance to pitch against him was a great experience.”

Such a chance would never come again. In November of that year, while pitching in Nicaragua, McAvoy broke his arm throwing a fastball. Then, after missing the entire 1960 season, McAvoy broke his arm again during a bullpen session the following year. By 1962, at age 26, his major league career was finished.

But as that door closed, another opened. McAvoy, who moved his family back to the Capital Region, became interested in fast-pitch softball, and by 1965, was managing at Sportsman’s.

In addition to his years with Peckham’s, Lieber’s and Heflin’s, McAvoy also managed Middletown OTB and Circle Tap of Wisconsin in tournaments, and in 2008, his “Mac’s Sprayers” team went 8-0, outscoring its opponents by 62-2, in the AAU Men’s Fastpitch Champ­ionships in Orlando, Fla.

Because of illness, McAvoy was unable to attend the Hall of Fame induction in the Quad Cities area of Iowa and Illinois. A longtime softball friend, Billy Smith of Hankins, spoke for McAvoy.

“Mac has so many friends — you can’t name an enemy,” Smith said that day. “He brought not dozens, but hundreds of players to the game. Many of them — Kiwis,

Canadians, Dominicans — have spent time in the McAvoy household in Still­water, N.Y.”

During the closing of the program, Smith had a telephone hooked into the P.A. system at the Paradise Ballroom of the Bettendorf Isle Casino so everyone could listen. McAvoy’s wife of more than 50 years, Jean, was at his side and he talked about his health and career, and thanked everyone involved in his induction.

Services will be at 4 p.m. Saturday at the DeVito-Salvadore Funeral Home, 39 So. Main St., Mechanicville. Calling hours are from 1-4.

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