BASEBALL: Fort White coach Blanchard passes away
One would be hard-pressed to find another Boston sports fan more passionate than Pete Blanchard – a fun, easygoing man who absolutely loved the Red Sox.
So it's fitting the final game he watched ended with a bang. Well, it was more of a blast – a two-run home run by Jackie Bradley Jr in the 10th inning Tuesday night.
Just seconds after Bradley Jr's game-sealing homer, surrounded by close friends and family, Blanchard passed away from complications of esophageal cancer.
He was 54.
"I think he finally knew the win was safe," his son, Billy, said. "I'm so glad I was able to watch one more game with him."
Blanchard was a fixture in the Fort White community for nearly two decades. He joined the high school staff as a custodian even before the new building opened in 2000. The Massachusetts transplant later worked his way up to head custodian at the high school. But it's his deep passion for sports people will remember most.
In over 30 years of coaching, Blanchard oversaw competitive teams at all levels from youth recreation leagues to high school varsity. He has coached soccer and baseball along with many years of being behind the plate serving as an umpire.
"He was super, totally super," Fort White athletic director John Wilson said. "We did baseball (and) umpiring together… So we had a lot in common. We talked about the greatest things when it came to athletics. He was really up on all the sports… He's just a great guy. From 2002 when I first met him, we had a lot in common."
Blanchard was always willing to help, says Wilson, even coaching certain teams when nobody else was interested.
"It was awesome to have him because he could coach so many different sports," he said. "But baseball was his favorite."
Blanchard, a longtime baseball fan who instilled his passion for the game into local youngsters, helped groom countless baseball players during his time in Fort White.
"He's the only guy that I know of who was a very good coach and a very good umpire," former varsity coach Mike Rizzi said. "He took a lot of pride in both jobs so he was a good umpire. He had a great memory, knew all the rules, everything."
Rizzi says he'll miss hanging out and coaching with his best friend, Blanchard.
"I really hope that I can kind of go out the same way," he said. "With the dignity he had and strength – he inspired people – at the end it was just kind of cool."
It wasn't until last year in March when Blanchard was first diagnosed with cancer.
A month later Fort White's baseball program launched a fundraiser in his name in an effort to help with medical expenses.
"He loved this community, and they loved him," his wife, Karen, said. "He absolutely loved what he did…He loved it here and there's so many people who felt that way about him."
Blanchard's celebration of life service will be held at 11 a.m. on Aug. 25 at Fort White High School. Attendees are encouraged to wear their favorite sports jerseys.
"Because that's what he would want."