Everyone's life has a story. In "Lives," we tell some of those stories about North Shore people who have died recently. "Lives" runs Mondays in The Salem News.
SWAMPSCOTT — When Al Duratti saw a notice looking for volunteers to coach in a new enterprise called Swampscott Little League in 1954, he immediately sent in his name.
Organizers were pleased when they saw Duratti's name on the list, but looked surprised when he walked through the door for the first meeting.
"They thought it was going to be his grandfather," said Deb Domoretsky Duratti, Al's daughter. "At the time, my dad was 19."
That was the last time anybody was surprised to see Al Duratti associated with Swampscott Little League. For the next 57 years, Duratti served as coach, mentor and father figure to hundreds of youngsters who came through the program. He coached his last game only two weeks before he died, on July 28 at age 77.
Duratti was also a founder of Swampscott Pop Warner Football, president of the Boosters Club and the Italian Club, and a Town Meeting member. But it was his longtime association with Swampscott Little League for which he was best-known.
Little League baseball was a novelty when Duratti helped start the program in 1954. To recruit players for the program, he would walk around town handing out 3-by-5 cards for kids to bring home to their parents. At the games, volunteers sold refreshments out of the back of a station wagon because there was no concessions stand.
Duratti loved baseball, with a particular expertise in pitching, but mostly he loved working with kids and watching them improve.
"He looked forward to every season," said Michael Duratti, one of Al's four children. "He'd say, 'Tryouts are coming up, then the draft.' Next thing you know, 20 games go by, and you're looking forward to the next season. It kept him going, looking forward to going down to the park."
Millie Duratti, Al's wife of 60 years, recalled the thousands of trips to the park, her kids playing in the dirt when they were small while she worked at the concessions stand that was eventually built. Then there were the get-togethers with the coaches after the big games, the laughs, and the constant replaying of every pitch and hit.
"It was a wonderful connection," Millie Duratti said. "They all grew up together."
Duratti coached the Yankees, not the ideal team name for a die-hard Red Sox fan. As soon as a game ended, he would change into the Red Sox hat that he always kept in his car.
Duratti's trademark was an ever-present cigar. After a win, he would select one of his players to light the "victory cigar."
In 2003, Duratti and another Swampscott Little League founder, Andy Holmes, threw out the first pitch at Fenway Park to commemorate their 50 years of service to the organization.
For all of his time spent coaching, Duratti's first commitment was his family. He never missed a school play, a dance recital or a game involving his children, and later his grandchildren.
"I don't know how he did it all," Michael Duratti said.
"It was important to him," Millie Duratti said. "He knew it was important to be there for the kids."
Duratti had a master's degree in business management from Northeastern University and worked as an industrial engineer in the semiconductor industry. After he retired, he drove a bus for special-needs students in the town of Danvers.
Duratti, in fact, drove the bus the morning he died. When he got home, he sat down to watch an afternoon Red Sox game on TV. He died, of heart-related causes, while watching the game he loved.