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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Nashua’s ‘Birdie’ Tebbetts among 2014 NHIAA Hall of Fame inductees

Dean Shalhoup

George Tebbetts was 14, maybe 15, that winter day when he and younger brother Jim showed up at their uncle’s North End Nashua home to shovel his driveway.

With the last shovelfuls, their aunt called to them. ...

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George Tebbetts was 14, maybe 15, that winter day when he and younger brother Jim showed up at their uncle’s North End Nashua home to shovel his driveway.

With the last shovelfuls, their aunt called to them.

“C’mon in, your uncle wants to see you,” she said.

Thinking payment or maybe some hot chocolate, the youths eagerly accepted, shedding their overcoats as they got to the living room.

Today, Tebbetts, whom longtime Nashuans will remember as a star lineman on the 1959 Nashua High School football team that is among legendary coach Buzz Harvey’s most successful, recalls seeing his uncle and three other men dressed to the nines and sipping cocktails.

“Ah, meet my nephews,” the uncle said to the men.

“Boys, this is Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Joe Garagiola. Say hi to them.”

If the faces weren’t immediately familiar, the names were, Tebbetts said, laughing at what he said next.

“I turned to Jimmy and said, ‘Jeez, Uncle Birdie must be pretty good.’ ”

Indeed, he was. The boys were in the home of their Uncle Birdie Tebbetts, the shy, wholesome, homespun boy who rose from a 9-year-old batboy to a household name in Major League Baseball circles as a catcher, manager, executive and master scout.

George R. “Birdie” Tebbetts amassed an almost endless list of accomplishments, tributes and honors over a career that spanned more than 60 years. And even his death, in March 1999 at age 86, didn’t stop that list from growing.

Later this year, more than a century after the future high school, college and MLB all-star moved to Nashua at age 1 with his family, the latest kudo will be added to that impressive list when the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association inducts Tebbetts into its Hall of Fame.

His nephew and namesake, retired but still living in his native Nashua, spent a good chunk of the past winter assembling a package of his uncle’s accomplishments and photos for the NHIAA committee to consider.

He met the April 15 deadline and waited. The good news came a couple of weeks ago.

“I got word he made it,” Tebbetts said. “Needless to say, I was quite pleased.”

He is already compiling a sizeable guest list to bring to Concord for the induction ceremony, which will have a decidedly local flavor with longtime Nashua radio broadcaster Ed Lecius, former Milford High multisport athlete Lesli Laychak-Rendall and the Rev. Robert “Odie” Odierna joining Tebbetts on the induction program.

The event is scheduled for Nov. 16 at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord.

Tebbetts and Laychak-Rendall will be inducted in the “athlete” category, along with Concord’s William Marston. Lecius is in the “contributor” category, while Odierna, rector of Nashua’s Church of the Good Shepherd, represents the “official” category.

The “coaches” category includes inductees David Minickiello, of Keene; Graham Perham, of Lisbon; and Thomas Underwood, of Plymouth.

The NHIAA Hall of Fame, launched in 2001, inducts several new members each year from a wide variety of categories that range from school administrators and school board members to community and business boosters, sportswriters and sportscasters.

Inductees to date include a number of local people, such as the late Nashua High School track coach Fran Tate, in 2001; Nashua High School and pro football star Greg Landry, in 2002; Bill Dod, former Bishop Guertin and Souhegan coach and athletic director, in 2005; the late Lou Korcoulis, prolific Hollis Brookline track coach, in 2006; former Merrimack High coach and athletic director Joe Raycraft, in 2008; the late Nashua High School track coach Pauline Albert, in 2012; and longtime Nashua High School football and wrestling coach Paul Bellavance, in 2013.

Few local athletes dominated Telegraph sports pages like Tebbettsdid, picking up with his high school career and remaining a steady, sometimes dominant, presence until he retired in the 1980s.

Early reports included his bout with appendicitis, which required emergency surgery while he was at Providence College. What is almost an outpatient procedure today was far more serious, and life-threatening, in the early 1930s, and The Telegrpah story noted the operation would keep Tebbetts out of action for several months.

He was born the middle of three children in Burlington Vt., in 1912, but the family moved to Nashua the next year. Younger sister Kathryn, a longtime social studies teacher at the old Spring Street Junior High, and older brother Charles are deceased.

Tebbetts was still in elementary school when the shrill, bird-like voice that gave him his lifelong nickname began bouncing around local baseball diamonds.

“He chirps like a little bird,” an aunt once said, undoubtedly the comment that firmed up that nickname.

Nephew George Tebbetts credits his uncle with laying the foundation for the family’s athletic endeavors.

“We all took Birdie’s lead. His boys played baseball in college, my son Matt played college and in the minors,” he said of his son, who traded bat and ball for pedals and now, in his early 40s, is the South Carolina state bicycling champion.

One of young Birdie Tebbetts’ chores was batboy for the Nashua Millionaires, a New England League team owned by the late shoe executive and Gov. Francis P. Murphy.

“He warmed up the pitchers,” his nephew said, finding remarkable the fact that an 11- or 12-year-old boy was catching pitches that reached 85-90 mph.

“He had wrists on him like this,” Tebbetts added, illustrating with his hand.

Scores of stories and anecdotes remain attached to the man and the legend, such as the time he was inducted into the Army and walked on to a base in Texas.

“They had a gym and a couple of fields, and this crummy rundown golf course,” George Tebbetts said. “He said, ‘Go find me someone who knows grass.’ ”

Soon, another young soldier, from Woburn, Mass., introduced himself.

“It was Phil Friel. Talk about a small world,” George Tebbetts said, referring to the future golf pro and course architect who owned Hudson’s Green Meadow Golf Club for generations.

Dean Shalhoup’s column appears Saturdays in The Telegraph. He can be reached at 594-6443 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.