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Honoring A HOF Coach And Friend

Flanked by Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Randy Anderson, left, and CSHOF banquet chairman Chip Johnson, right, George Barone, a CSHOF  Class of 2021 inductee, is presented his plaque and ring during a ceremony at his home in West Ellicott on Thursday. P-J photo by Scott Kindberg

Taped to a wall in the bedroom of George Barone’s West Ellicott apartment — next to plaques and other mementos commemorating a lifetime of coaching youth baseball — is a handwritten note, dated a little more than two years ago.

“Thanks so much for your Christmas card. I had a great time playing for you and my awesome teammates. Enjoy 2019.”

The missive is signed by Dayton Moore.

Moore is now the general manager of the Kansas City Royals, but a piece of his heart apparently still remains on the diamonds in Lakewood where he was mentored by Barone decades ago.

Welcome to the club, Dayton, because you have plenty of company.

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Barone is currently in Hospice care yet, despite his circumstances, his face brightened when he was paid a visit Thursday afternoon by Chautauqua Sports Hall of Fame president Randy Anderson and banquet chairman Chip Johnson. Because the 2021 CSHOF induction dinner will not be held on Presidents’ Day weekend as is custom due to COVID-19, the men brought Barone, one of 11 inductees in the Class of 2021, his plaque and ring.

Fittingly, the 78-year-old was wearing a Cleveland Indians jersey in honor of his favorite team.

Equally fitting, his induction speech — written on a piece of notebook paper — was basically a thank-you note to:

A “close friend” who lives in Buffalo who nominated him for induction;

Anderson and the CSHOF Board of Directors;

All the players he has coached;

Charlie Jordan, Dave Spitzer, Mark Melquist, Mike and Wyatt Perry, Bud Foust and Lyle Parkhurst who were among the 19 assistant coaches who volunteered their time to help through the years;

Doug Berlin, Charlie Kent, Chris Maggio, Tommy Tantillo, Jim Waid, John Lillie, George Panebianco and Bob Whitney for their “support and kindness to me” in 31 years in the Jamestown Babe Ruth League;

The Post-Journal sports department and the Chautauqua County Umpires Association;

And, finally, Southwestern Area Sports Inc., including Frank Hyde, Bob Davidson, Jack Carpenter, Cloise Swearingen and Dick Ahlstrom, that “gave me a chance to have my own team at 15 years old.”

Yep, Barone made his coaching debut in 1957.

For the next 64 years he could be found in area dugouts and diamonds every spring and summer. For those keeping score, that’s exactly 1,473 players who have called him “Coach.”

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With the help of his daughter, Brooke, Barone made his way to a closet and pulled out a Cleveland cap and jersey, and presented them to Anderson and Johnson.

But those weren’t his final gifts.

On another piece of notebook paper, also hand-written, was a letter for the “future ballplayers.”

Wrote Barone:

¯ “The difference between the team that wins and the one that loses is mental attitude. The effort they give and the mental alertness keeps them from making mental mistakes. Concentration and dedication are the deciding factor.”

¯ “Good coaches find a way to teach baseball, prepare a team and have fun at the same time. Keep baseball fun, whether it’s a 7- or 8-year-old or a 17- or 18-year-old. Participation in baseball has been declining at the younger ages. Win-at-all-costs is not helping the situation. A very simple solution is we want the player — young and old — to have fun and learn the correct fundamentals of the game.”

¯ “Winning becomes more important as a player gets older and better, but winning is not the goal when it comes to youth baseball. They must have fun. Throwing, catching and hitting a baseball should be your first step of teaching the game.”

¯ “Unless you play the game with a winning attitude, you cannot reach your potential as an individual player.”

¯ “To be aggressive, you have to be self-confident. You have to believe that you can play better than the other players on the field.”

¯ “You owe it to yourself to be the best you can be. Consistency is very important in your performance. Never let anyone discourage you from playing the game you love.”

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The mid-afternoon gathering complete, Anderson and Johnson adjourned to the parking lot outside Barone’s apartment and they both agreed that the half-hour conversation with their friend and 2021 inductee was something special.

“It was a meaningful experience to George and to us,” Anderson said. “We were able to see the joy in his face. … Talk about honoring our sports history of Chautauqua County? Here’s a guy who gave his whole life to baseball.”

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