Matt George can’t decide which passion he loves the most — coaching baseball or studying Civil War history. So he often mixes them together and creates an opportunity to teach some valuable lessons.
The longtime area baseball enthusiast named the summer team he coaches the Schenectady/Schoharie Volunteers after the 134th New York regiment that fought in the Civil War.
“I did plenty of research on that regiment, and I have all the references,” he said. “Those men actually played baseball, as did many soldiers in the Civil War, and they all came from the Schenectady and Schoharie area. At the end of every season, I always tell the kids about why I named the team after that regiment. Some of the kids are bored with the story, but they like the Civil War T-shirts I hand out.”
George is a member and two-time past president of the Capital District Civil War Round Table, which began in 1984. He’s currently the program and education chairman.
“Our organization sells T-shirts to raise money, and I buy them and give them to the kids at the end of the year,” he said.
“I enjoy baseball so much, but I’ve always considered myself a teacher who coaches, as opposed to a coach who teaches. It all comes down to the kids. As I’ve gotten older, I’m more concerned with getting good kids who are coachable. There are a lot of small rewards you get when you are a coach, just like you do when you are a teacher. It makes it all worthwhile.”
The 68-year-old George still loves to wield his fungo bat during batting practice. In fact, that’s why he had knee surgery six years ago.
“I knew I soon wouldn’t be able to hit fungos any more if I didn’t have the surgery,” he said. “Some mornings, I get up with the usual aches and pains, especially from the artificial knee, but I’m not ready to quit.”
George keeps track of every game he coaches at every level. He’s been a head baseball coach for 955 games over a span of 39 years. And that doesn’t include all the games he’s been involved in as an assistant.
“I keep track of every game I coach and put it in a computer file at the end of the season,” he said. “I’m pretty close to a .500 coach for my high school career, but we haven’t had many successful programs for the summer teams lately. But that’s OK. I still love it. Although I still love to win, just like anybody else, the important thing for me now is watching my kids become successful in life. I guess that’s what happens when you get older.”
The Albany native moved to Latham as a youngster and graduated from Shaker High School. After earning a degree in history at American University and a graduate degree at The College of Saint Rose, he moved to Rotterdam, where he has lived ever since.
“Believe it or not, when I first became a teacher in 1970-71, I coached the bowling team at Draper,” he said with a laugh. “I earned $200 for the whole year. It was a different economy back then.”
George later coached varsity, JV and modified baseball at Draper, but the school eventually was closed.
“My last year, it probably didn’t make much of a difference, since they were closing the school anyway, but I finished one game behind [Fort Plain’s] Craig Phillips. Typical,” he said.
George then moved over to coach modified and JV baseball at Schalmont until head coach Bruce Bouck died, and George took over the varsity for 51⁄2 seasons. He later became a JV and varsity assistant coach at Duanesburg, where he continues to coach despite retiring as a teacher.
“I guess except for Schenectady High School and Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons, I’ve coached at most of the Schenectady County schools,” he said.
“And I’ve also coached summer baseball for just as long. I was the commissioner for Babe Ruth baseball for many years, and I’ve also been involved with Senior Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle. Since 2000, I’ve coached the Schenectady/Schoharie travel teams.”
George, who often picks up the entry fee for his summer ballplayers if they can’t afford to play, said he won’t think about retiring until he reaches the magic 1,000 number of coaching games.
“When I get to 1,000, I’ll make a decision on whether my knees can’t handle it any more,” he said. “If God permits me to average at least 15 games a season for a few more years, I’ll get to 1,000.”
George recently scratched off a special item from his bucket list, and it was a memorable moment for more reasons than one.
“I’ve coached so many special kids along the way, some very good, bright kids,” he said. “But one of the brightest was a former Duanesburg catcher named Richie Kennedy. We’ve stayed in touch for many years. He eventually got a four-year’s dean’s scholarship to UBuffalo to become an aeronautical engineer, and he later moved to California and received his doctorate from Cal Tech.
“I also had a friend who was living out in California, and after Richie graduated, I called my friend to set up a special visit. My favorite team has always been the Dodgers, but I had never been able to see them play out in Los Angeles. I eventually flew out there this year and saw two Dodgers games with my friend and Richie. I’ll never forget it. Seeing kids like Richie become successful is why I became a teacher and a coach in the first place.”