Retired coach Tom McGrath coached the '78 Blue Devils to a state championship and was the force behind their once-in-a-lifetime trip to play in Taiwan.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Winning a high school state championship is the kind of thing that gives most people a lifetime of memories.
But it was just one of the once-in-a-lifetime events for members of the Drury High baseball team in 1978.
Both the North Adams Blue Devils' state crown and their exhibition games in Taiwan were recognized Sunday in a ceremony marking their 40th anniversary at the Baseball in the Berkshires exhibit at the Berkshire Mall.
"That were a lot of things happening that year for us seniors," said Glenn Boyer, who, along with '78 teammate Mark Wilk, was on hand for a reunion hosted by the exhibit.
"That was definitely, probably, the greatest time in our lives there. I don't think most of us had even flown when we went on the Taiwan trip. To have it all combined with a state championship, that was all coincidental. We started preparing for [the trip] our junior year, in which we lost in the state finals.
"I don't know where coach ever came up with this idea, but it was a great trip."
Coach Tom McGrath, now retired, said Sunday that the trip had its genesis in a conversation with one of his colleagues on the North Adams high school's faculty.
"We were in having lunch one day, and we were talking about a friend of mine in Connecticut, who was a coach, and how he took his team to different countries. He said, 'Geez, would you be interested in going to Taiwan with your team? … I was there in the service, and I've got connections.'
"One thing led to another, and he made his calls, and we got an invitation. And then we started raising money."
The team had to raise $16,000 to make the trip a reality, which was a lot of money in 1978, McGrath notes. In addition to holding raffles, the players shoveled sidewalks and raked leaves to raise the money needed to play the game they loved on the other side of the globe.
"How many times we must have knocked on everybody's doors," Boyer said. "I'm sure they'd probably had enough fo the Drury baseball team at that time."
In the end, all but two of the players reached his individual quota in fund-raising, McGrath said. One kid had to pay $10 out of pocket, and the other had to pay $15.
"To think of having to [raise that money] nowadays, that would be pretty tough," McGrath said. "But we had a great group of kids and a great group of parents."
And Drury had some great athletes, among the hundreds of baseball players from throughout the county on permanent display at the Baseball in the Berkshires exhibit.
"People in Berkshire County, some people, don't know how big baseball is in Berkshire County," McGrath said as he regarded the 1,200 artifacts and videos on display at the mall location. "You come in here and walk around, you're going to walk out with your eyes open.
"You walk around and see the names and the pictures, it's nice to be a part of it."
The county's connection to the game goes back to its origins, and the exhibit, which has grown immensely since its humble beginnings at Arrowhead in 2015, chronicles much of that history. McGrath helped etch his place in Berkshire County lore over several decades as a high school teacher and coach.
The key, he said, was his willingness to be a student of the game.
"I always go out and tell other coaches: You've got to go to the conventions," McGrath said. "I went out to every national convention there was around the country and listened to those guys. And I took notes.
"Maury Wills was putting on a clinic about stealing, and I was a young coach, and he said, 'Most guys get on first base, and that first step, they go here [demonstrating a step toward second with the right foot]. ... You tell your kids to open their front and crossover [with the left foot].' You see how much ground he picked up? A foot and a half. I was there taking notes."
McGrath said he always was able to pick up something at those clinics that he could bring back to his players in North Adams.
And when he returned, he found an audience of kids who always were eager to improve.
"We just loved playing baseball," Boyer said. "We just played it. Did we try to better ourselves to 'get to the next level'? I don't think we ever even thought about those things. We just enjoyed the game.
"Childhood was different then. You played baseball in the park all the time. ... You played from morning, noon and night — rubber ball, Wiffle Ball, whatever."
"Baseball in the Berkshires: A County's Common Bond" is on display at the Berkshire Mall from noon to 6 p.m. on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
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