Those close to George Handley will tell you there is only one thing he loved more than his family — baseball.
The sport encompassed so much of his life, from his own playing career that began in his native New York to his sons’ participation to his extensive background in coaching. He never lost his desire to play baseball and the Suwanee resident died last Sunday doing just that.
Handley, who was 61, pitched an inning for his team of the past 12 years and returned to the bench. He began talking to a teammate and collapsed, dying of an apparent heart attack.
Just like that, a true baseball man was taken from us at just 61 years old.
“The man absolutely loved baseball, no doubt about it,” said Greater Atlanta Christian head coach Cliff Shelton, who employed Handley as his pitching coach from 2000-10. “He was pretty intense and he demanded excellence in everything. He didn’t like to lose. Family was real important to him and so were his players. He loved his players. There was never any question about that.”
Those players included some pretty good ones. His own sons Matt and Michael were good pitchers at GAC and beyond. He also started the Georgia Tigers, where he coached major leaguer Brian McCann for five years, as well as Micah Owings. His 16-year-old team won the CABA National Championship with McCann and Owings.
Though he worked in real estate, Handley dedicated a great deal of his life to baseball, including the opening of The Ballpark at Duluth in the 1990s. It wasn’t uncommon to see a young McCann hitting there.
“George loved kids,” said Howie McCann, Brian’s father. “He’s just a great guy. I can’t say enough good things about him. ... Without a doubt, he’s one of the nicest guys I ever met.”
Those who met Handley in passing may not have gotten that feel. He wasn’t a yeller, but he had a scowl that got his point across to his players.
Yet off the field, he was rarely scowling. He was a well-liked businessman and friend who will be honored with a service today at 1 p.m. at Crowell Brothers Funeral Home’s Peachtree Chapel.
“He was incredibly thoughtful,” Shelton said. “You wouldn’t have known that from your first brush with him. He sent Christmas cards. He wrote letters of thanks and congratulations to people. He puts me to shame. He had a rough exterior, but he really had a heart of gold.”
And one full of baseball.
Will Hammock can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, visit www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.