Baseball legend, long-time volunteer Barry Marchand passes away at 71

PETIT DE GRAT: One of the greatest athletes this region has ever produced passed away last week at the age of 71.

Long-time baseball player, teacher, coach, and volunteer Barry Marchand passed away on April 25 at his home in Petit de Grat.

He was born at St. Martha’s Regional Hospital in Antigonish on July 7, 1949.

A native of Louisdale, Marchand graduated from Isle Madame District High (IMDH) and studied at StFX University, then Teacher’s College, before becoming a Physical Education teacher in schools around Richmond County.

It was as an athlete that Marchand was best known, especially on the baseball diamond.

“He LOVED baseball. It was his passion. He played with teams in Louisdale, St. Peter’s and (the) Red Caps, among others. He loved it so much that he would hitchhike to his games in Sydney as a young man and that he would be late for his own wedding to finish a game. It was his home away from home, his passion,” according to his obituary. “We all knew we were watching a special athlete when he played, with athletic feats beyond our comprehension. People traveled to see him play just to get a glimpse of a towering home run or to see him pitch. To an entire generation he was our superhero; strong, kind and incredible. He made the most difficult things look easy, like when he hit home runs with what seemed like an effortless swing.”

Born just three weeks apart, former municipal councillor Gerry Bourque said he became “good friends” with Marchand in 1963 when they were both in Grade 8 at IMDH. He said they played basketball and hockey for the Arichat school.

“There’s no question that baseball was his niche; that was his favourite and his best,” Bourque agreed. “I consider him one of the best ballplayers ever to play anywhere in this province, locally and provincially.”

In 1964, Bourque said he and Marchand joined the Petit de Grat Red Caps at 14 years of age.

“He was a tremendous talent then,” Bourque recalled. “He could run like a deer and he could play any position; he could catch, he could pitch, didn’t matter where you put him. His best position, when he wasn’t pitching, was centre field because he could go get a ball anywhere.”

Photo by Jake Boudrot
The lights were on at the Petit de Grat Ballfield on April 25 in honour of long-time volunteer and baseball legend Barry Marchand, who passed earlier that day at his home.

When the two were students at StFX, Bourque recalled a time when the former football coach tried to recruit him as a kicker.

“He was kicking them from centre field right through the uprights. Don Loney came after him, wanted him to go out for the team,” he recounted. “He could punt a ball 50-60 yards consistently. And he could throw a football, he had big, strong hands. He was a special talent, there’s no question about it.”

After playing with the Red Caps, Marchand then went to play for the Louisdale Baracos when the Richmond Amateur Baseball Association (RABA) was formed in 1970, becoming the league’s best hitter and best pitcher.

“Growing up, young ballplayers would look up to some of the players in the Richmond Amateur Baseball Association, one of those players was Barry Marchand,” long-time friend and team mate Richard Boudreau wrote. “Barry and I have probably played the most games together than any other combination of two players in league history. When I first started playing RABA, I looked up to Barry. The first chance I had, I chose to wear #16 with the Red Caps as this was the number Barry wore when playing with the Louisdale Baracos. I’m extremely proud and feel blessed to have shared so many wonderful baseball and life memories with him.”

In the late 1970s, Marchand played with the Sydney Sooners, then went to the St. Peter’s Royals, both of the Nova Scotia Senior Baseball League (NSSBL), before returning to RABA action with Petit de Grat in the mid-1980s.

Bourque played with him in St. Peter’s during the 1981 and 1982 seasons.

“It was a pleasure to play with him when I played with the Royals but it was totally agony to play against him because he could beat you in so many ways,” Bourque noted. “He could throw out a runner, and you knew he was going to hit. If you weren’t going to walk him, forget it, he was hitting.”

Photo by Jake Boudrot
Barry Marchand’s hat comemorating the 50th anniversary of the Petit de Grat Red Caps was placed at the pitcher’s mound on April 25 at the Petit de Grat Ballfield.

Boudreau and Bourque are both part of the community effort to have Marchand enshrined into the Nova Scotia Sport Hall of Fame for his decades of excellence.

“Baseball has been an integral part of the culture in Richmond County, especially in Petit de Grat,” Boudreau wrote in his submission. “When baseball is being discussed in Richmond County and surrounding areas, one of the first names that comes up is Barry Marchand. Barry has had a long career (1960’s-2010’s) as a player, as a manager and builder in Richmond County.”

Not just in local or provincial circles, Marchand is well known all over the Maritimes, Boudreau wrote, noting that wherever he played, Marchand left an impression as a great hitter.

“Barry played at the regional, the provincial and national levels. Barry excelled as a player, proven by the many individual awards he received throughout his career,” Boudreau wrote.

Although there were many stories about the many long homeruns hit by Marchand, the one which stands-out involves a round-tripper he hit at The Wanderers Grounds in Halifax.

“There was an old fella there who came to him after the game and said ‘I’ve been watching ball here since the H & D league,’ and he said, ‘that’s the longest homerun ever hit on this ballfield,’” Bourque noted. “He hit it so far, there’s two streets there, Bell and another street, well it cleared the two roads.”

This excellence continued for many years, with Marchand leading the RABA in hitting well past the age of 50.

“Even well into his 50s, he was still hitting .400 in the RABA,” Bourque pointed out. “Every year, there was an Island-Mainland division. He was top three in average, and normally he was leading in home runs.”

Contributed photo This is a picture from a drone of the tribute to Barry Marchand on April 25 at the Petit de Grat Ballfield.

And not just as a player, Marchand spent many years maintaining the Petit de Grat Ballfield.

“Endless hours of mowing, screening the infield or general repairs, even for games he was not playing,” his obituary reads. “The most influential structure that he helped build was the baseball field in Petit de Grat. This will be his legacy. He built that field so everyone would have a beautiful place to play.”

Boudreau notes that perhaps Marchand’s greatest contribution to baseball in the area is as a builder.

“When he returned to the Red Caps, he made it his goal to create a great venue for baseball. The Red Caps organization led by Barry, who spent countless hours at the ball field, created the venue that we have today for baseball,” Boudreau wrote. “Barry has created a complex here which is second to none in the province. Barry is proud of his baseball accomplishments, however, he is extremely proud of the Petit de Grat ball field.”

Bourque said Marchand and Adrian Boudreau were instrumental in the expansion of the Petit de Grat field.

“What I hope is that the young players that played with him on the Petit de Grat Red Caps, for his legacy, that they get involved in the field and they keep it the way he kept it,” he stated.

And in addition to his feats on the baseball field, Marchand was an exceptional athlete.

“If you listen, you can still hear the cuts of the ice when he played hockey, or remember the time he beat the bowling champion and refused to play him again, and all the pool games at the legion,” according to his obituary.

Bourque said this extended to almost every sport.

“It didn’t matter what you played, table tennis, ping-pong, tremendous at it, badminton. He could hit a golf ball a mile,” he pointed out. “He was a natural at everything and everything came easy to him, no effort.”

Marchand continued to play baseball into his 60s, but he was also interested in technology, and was up on all the latest trends or equipment, according to his obituary. He parlayed those skills into the annual “Lundrigan Lane Light Up” where people pay admission to see beautiful displays of holiday lights, with proceeds to a deserving local group.

“He loved to see the reactions of families as they came to see the display,” his obituary reads.