LAWRENCEVILLE — The crowd applauded politely when Lefty pitched on Monday. It was a far cry from the heat he threw as a member of the 1943 Atlanta Crackers.
Guin "Lefty" Cronic, 86, could hardly make the ball go 10 feet as he threw out the first pitch at Gwinnett Stadium, but years ago he found success in the minor leagues.
When Cronic was growing up in the Chicopee mill village, his ability as a southpaw baseball pitcher was something to see, according to the pages of his scrapbook. He earned a place on the Piedmont College baseball team and was recruited by the Atlanta Crackers for the 1943 season.
In a game between the Crackers and Georgia Tech, a hit off Cronic at the old Ponce de Leon Park knocked Georgia Tech standout Frank Broyles out cold. A newspaper picture in Cronic’s scrapbook shows a Tech player pouring water onto Broyles’ face. Broyles went on to become the Arkansas head coach and athletic director.
Cronic got a call up from Uncle Sam and served the remainder of World War II in the Navy, primarily in the Philippines.
When he returned, he played a little pro ball in Florida, but came back to Georgia and used his GI benefits to get a degree in education. He began a long teaching and administration career that culminated as principal of Lula Elementary.
Two of his sons, David and Philip, were with him at the game Tuesday.
David Cronic said his father always has had an affinity for baseball.
"We played when we were kids, and he was always a good coach," he said.
The elder Cronic has been a resident at New Horizons North nursing home for the past two years. Administrator Henry Roberts knew of Cronic’s passion for baseball and included him on the outing to the game Monday with seven other residents.
Roberts also told Gwinnett Braves officials of Cronic’s affiliation with the Crackers, drawing the invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Cronic, who lost the lower portion of one leg because of complications from diabetes, can no longer stand, but he warmed up his pitching arm as he awaited his moment.
It turned out to be more of a simple toss, but right fielder Rick Gorecki grabbed it and came forward to shake the old player’s hand.
Cronic was oblivious to the applause after his pitch, but was warmly greeted by the baseball faithful seated along the first base line as his son, Philip, pushed him back to a seat on an upper concourse.