July 18, 2002 – Alfonso "Piggy" Gerard, the only Virgin Islander to play professional baseball in the historic Negro Leagues, died Sunday on St. Croix. He was 86.
Those who knew him said that Gerard took pride in his body as a temple to be used to promote the Virgin Islands and the sport he loved. It is said that he never drank or smoked.
His son James "Tremile" Gerard said his father would get disappointed when he heard about young players who forfeited good careers because they lacked the discipline to live out the sport. "My father felt there were a lot of guys that left here and could have made it. It would break his heart" when they ended up coming back home, the younger Gerard said.
Gerard's humble but determined spirit won him a spot in numerous leagues, and he traveled to many countries playing ball. By age 23, he was off to Puerto Rico, where he played in the Amateur League with the San Juan Pirates, Manati Stars and Santurce Crabbers.
In a championship game in Puerto Rico, Tremile Gerard related, his father disobeyed his coach's directive to bunt the ball: "He didn't listen and hit a home run. He got $100 fine, but they were glad when he won the game for them."
In 1939, Gerard traveled with a Puerto Rican team to the Latin American Championships in Cuba. In 1945, he joined the Negro Major Leagues, where he played with the New York Black Yankees, Chicago American Giants, Kansas City Monarchs and the Indianapolis Clowns. In the 1950s, many black players found Canada more receptive to integrating its ball clubs.
In the United States, "Blacks had no opportunity, and worse West Indians," said Gerard's longtime friend Valmy Thomas, who would become the first Virgin Islander to play baseball in the major leagues. "Anyone who stayed in the oven too long had trouble. The closest ones were the Cubans. Many of them were playing."
Gerard's prowess over his 28-year career with the sport would take him to Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Canada — where he played with the Ontario Colonial League, Canadian-American League and the Canadian Provincial League.
His hitting record of .300 earned him a lifetime membership in the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in Kansas City, where his memorabilia graces the walls.
Before his retirement, Gerard received an offer to return to Canada to teach children to play ball. But instead, in 1960, he returned to St. Croix, where he became an advocate for the development of top-notch baseball fields throughout the territory.
Thomas, a boyhood friend from Water Gut in Christiansted who played with Gerard in Santurce, said Gerard was known for his strong left-handed pitching that could strike out almost half of the players who came up to bat.
"I was a little boy watching him," Thomas, 12 years his junior, said. "We used to play on a makeshift field right in Basin," the area that now occupied by the Basin Triangle residential community renamed after Gerard in 2001.
Thomas reminisced about playing baseball across a gut which ran through their outfield. He said they learned their ballplaying skills from a priest named Father Meehan at Holy Cross Catholic Church. "Though he could not play that well, he taught us well," Thomas said. "We slept, ate and talked baseball."
Thomas said Gerard as a young man became a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, "which was a place where your parents sent you when you needed some structuring." In Piggy's case, it was a military-type training school where young men were taught skills and provided community services such as planting trees and maintaining roads.
As Thomas spoke with great pride about his lifelong friend, his voice cracked as he related a recent visit to Gerard's home: "He was getting down ill for quite some time. It got to me to see someone that I knew that was so active. He barely knew me." Gerard's family said he had been suffering from Alzheimer's and prostate cancer.
Gerard's modest white concrete home in Estate St. Peter's is about a half mile over the hill from the David C. Canegata Ball Park where he spent many hours developing young talent. While employed by the then-Department of Conservation and Cultural Affairs, he managed the Ramblers baseball organization for more than a decades.
Sandra Gerard-Phaire said her father, the late Philip Gerard, didn't get to know his paternal brother Alfonso until they were in their twenties. "You know, in those days there wasn't any public transportation, and my father lived in Frederiksted," she said of the founder of Markoe Insurance Agency.
"They had an excellent relationship up until my Dad's passing in 1993," she said, adding that her uncle "worked with kids. That was his life." She said her own children attended Pearl B. Larsen Elementary School across from his home, and loved to go over and chase the chickens and fish in the dam behind the house.
Alfonso "Piggy" Gerard was born on Jan. 22, 1916, to Benjamin and Louisa Gerard in Christiansted, where he always maintained his residence when not on the road. He died at Juan F. Luis Hospital.
He is survived by his daughter, Linda Gerard; sons James Alphonso Gerard and Antonio Gerard; caretaker, Cynthia Joseph; sister-in-law Amparo Gerard; and other relatives and friends.
Funeral services will be on Wednesday, July 24, at St. John's Anglican Church in Christiansted. Viewing will begin at 10 a.m. with services to follow at 11 a.m. Burial will be at the Christiansted Cemetery.
For more information on Gerard, as well as Thomas and other professional V.I. baseball players, visit the V.I. Baseball site maintained by Rory Costello, a Brooklyn resident who has developed an extensive online archive about the territory's standouts in the sport.
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