Gene Marlow’s first pitch to his grandson Saturday ushered in a new season in Little League baseball in Gainesville, a sport he’s been a part of for nearly half a century.
Starting his 49th season as a volunteer coach, Marlow, 75, has seen his former players go on to big-league careers, coaching jobs of their own and other professional successes.
“It just makes me feel good to know I’ve been a part of their lives,” Marlow said before opening ceremonies for Gainesville Park and Recreation’s Little League.
Marlow can name off the old-school athletes he coached: Jody Davis, Tommy West, Cris Carpenter; as well as the newer ones: Georgia Tech’s Zach Brewster, Chestatee High School’s Rafael Mendoza, and many others he says he’s been fortunate to coach. At least four of his former players have gone on to coaching jobs themselves at local high schools.
Marlow says he’ll always be indebted to Gainesville Boys Club Director Jim Smith, who in 1962 took a chance on the 27-year-old first-time coach.
“It’s really been a highlight of my life to coach,” Marlow said.
On Saturday, Marlow threw the first pitch to his 11-year-old grandson Carson Gregory, one of 500 kids from 36 teams participating in Gainesville’s Little League this year.
The colorful celebration, with banners, balloons, cheers and the national anthem, drew a crowd at City Park.
“It’s just one of those things that gets carried on generation after generation, and Gainesville Little League baseball is a big sport,” said Gainesville Park and Rec’s Julie Butler Colombini. “The kids have been looking forward to it — mine couldn’t sleep last night.”
Jacob Patton, 12, was among those looking forward to his third year of Little League.
“It’s fun for everybody, for the teams to walk out with their banners and everybody’s clapping for them,” Patton said.
Said Patton’s father and coach of the Astros, Troy Patton, “It’s about camaraderie.”
“It’s a Gainesville tradition, the kickoff of the little league season,” Patton said.
Patton said with teammates from different schools, little league helps bring the community closer together, Patton said.
“It’s not just about competing against each other, it’s also about friendship,” Patton said.
Said Marlow, “You never know out of this group of kids, you may have a professional ballplayer coming along.”
The sunny spring weather and festive atmosphere Saturday morning had Marlow quoting Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks:
“It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two.”