Burgess, Longtime Councilman, Ballplayer, Dies At 83
BRIDGEWATER - The catcher’s position requires toughness in a baseball player that no other spot on the field commands.
The physical demands include the wear and tear on the body from constantly crouching to seize whatever ball a pitcher uses from his repertoire. The mental challenges involve handling that pitcher and keeping him under control, though they are also sometimes self-imposed, as in trying to get into a batter’s head.
By all accounts, Roscoe Burgess had what it took for the position, and that toughness followed him much later in life.
“He fought cancer about as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen,” Bridgewater Superintendent Bob Holton said. “He fooled me as well as his doctors [on how long he lived].”
Burgess, 83, died Thursday. In November, he was re-elected to serve his sixth consecutive four-year term on Bridgewater Town Council.
Burgess was the first African-American to serve on the panel.
A Bridgewater native, Burgess also was one of the first black players in the Rockingham County Baseball League, catching for Briery Branch and Harrisonburg. He managed the Harrisonburg team, called the ACs, and is credited for playing a major role in getting the all-black team into the summer league.
If not for segregation, Burgess could have been ticketed for the majors, Holton said.
“He was, I don’t want to cuss, but he was a darn good catcher,” said Woody Johnson, 74, one of Burgess’ four younger brothers and a former teammate. “He was one of the better ones around here.”
The RCBL will induct Burgess and 11 others into its Hall of Fame next month.
As a council member, he always took an interest in recreation and police activities, Holton said.
“I listen to people,” Burgess said in 2004. “People call up, and I listen. They know I will stand up for them.”
He worked for Heatwole Flooring and used that experience to offer free lessons for those in the construction field, Holton said.
“He just wanted to help,” he said.
Burgess served with Gideons International, was a voluntary chaplain at Rockingham Memorial Hospital and volunteered for the local food bank, friends say.
To sum up his brother, Johnson broke his no cussing preference.
“He was one helluva good man,” he said. “He was good to anybody who knew him. He never had an enemy. He always had a friend.”
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