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Parasiliti: DeWeerd fought the good fight for his beloved Suns

June 23, 2013
  • Bob Parasiliti
Joe Crocetta

Gary DeWeerd spent a lifetime fighting the good fight.

You can say it’s been his nature.

It all probably started when he elected to join the Air Force as a young man out of school.

Gary was more than willing to go a few rounds for his country. And after 24 years of service, he retired as a captain.

It didn’t end there, though.

Gary moved his family to Hagerstown. That’s when he, along with his wife Terry, found a new fight.

It was for the Hagerstown Suns.

Gary was an avid baseball fan, who instantly adopted the Suns after setting foot in Municipal Stadium.

The team represented a noble battle.

Hagerstown’s team was always the runt of professional baseball’s litter. The Suns played in an old stadium — still do — in a town that still ranks among the smallest markets. For years, players from various organizations have come here to play and have been forced to make the best of doing their jobs and pursuing their dreams without the amenities most others enjoy.

That became Gary’s crusade.

The mission he decided to accept was to help the players of his favorite team in his new favorite town while they were competing in his favorite pastime.

Gary’s dedication to all three was without reproach.

“When I first met Gary, he told me that he has been coming to Suns games for 15 straight years and never missed one,” said Al Nuzzi, a member of the team’s fan club.

Nuzzi was kind of skeptical, especially on one particular day. He looked around the stadium and Gary was nowhere to be found.

“I said ‘Where’s Gary?’” Nuzzi said.

He was told Gary felt chest pains that morning and was taken to Washington County Hospital, just around the corner from the stadium.

“Well, there goes the streak,” Nuzzi remembered saying.

But not for long. Come the fifth inning, there stood Gary.

“He said, ‘No chest pains were going to break my streak,’” Nuzzi said.

There were very few days that Gary didn’t stand at his command post — about five feet from the first-base end along the back of the Suns’ dugout — cheering on his battalion and plotting strategy.

After years of following, Gary became the leader as fan club president, turning Terry and himself into the Suns’ unofficial First Family.

Gary’s family — and his adopted baseball family of fan club friends — set out to improve the organization and make it the best of all worlds for Suns supporters.

It became more of a social club for the team’s most rabid fans and a charitable foundation helping to improve the surroundings for the players by doing little things.

The club’s footprint grew under Gary.

It held four in-season gatherings a year in the stadium’s picnic area. On the surface, it gave club members a chance to become acquainted with Suns players.

But in reality, it was as much a pot luck providing a home-cooked meal for the players as it was a social event.

The club held raffles to raise money to help the team, like by buying a new washer and dryer to help launder dirty uniforms. The DeWeerds were the key holders to a trailer filled with furniture, donated items that were lent to players to make their six-month stay homey.

Gary’s biggest labor of love, though, became one of the club’s best fundraisers.

He collected broken bats from the clubhouse and refurbished them.

Gary cleaned and reconstructed the bats — usually while listening to the Suns’ road games on the radio — to make them look like new.

Then he would take them back to the team and ask the players to autograph the bats before encasing them in plastic cylinders.

Voilá. Gary turned fireplace candidates into instant memorabilia.

The fan club sold chances on the bats during games. A fan won something to remember, while the club got money to buy snacks to make goodie bags to hand to each player to eat while traveling to road games.

Then, a few years back, Gary decided it was time to relinquish his presidency.

Soon after, his streak came to an end. His station behind the first base dugout was left unguarded.

Quietly, Gary’s health deteriorated. His illness kept him away from the ballpark. He was forced to fight a new fight from a nursing home.

Everything, like it usually does, progressed, but it wasn’t the same without Gary.

The bat raffles are still club functions.

So are the picnics.

And in the interim, the Suns have won two straight South Atlantic League Northern Division titles.

Suddenly, knowing that, Gary seemingly surrendered.

Gary, 64, passed away on June 13 — a few days before the Suns won that second title — ending his private battle against Alzheimer’s disease. He didn’t go down without a fight.

Someday, hopefully in the near future, Gary’s name should be placed alongside the likes of Willie Mays on the list of the most influential people in Hagerstown baseball history.

Mays is known as the most famous player to play at Municipal Stadium.

Gary should be remembered as the most loyal.

Both have a hand in why the team is here today.

Thanks to Gary DeWeerd, the good fight is still worth fighting.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com.

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