BEAR CREEK — If North Carolina baseball played within driving distance, Albert Tally was there. And to fully understand Tally, you must realize: his definition of “driving distance” was very …
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BEAR CREEK — If North Carolina baseball played within driving distance, Albert Tally was there. And to fully understand Tally, you must realize: his definition of “driving distance” was very loose.
Seven hours each way to Pittsburgh from his home in Bear Creek? 11 hours south to Miami or northwest to Notre Dame? 18 hours to Omaha, Nebraska, home of the College World Series?
It didn’t matter. Tally, more often than not, was there.
“There were times when I thought he loved it more than I did,” said Mike Fox, who retired this summer after coaching the Diamond Heels for 22 years.
It’s been over a month since Tally, 76, died of a stroke on Aug. 1. But his son, Kevin Tally, said kind words are still trickling in for the family. There’s been an outpouring of calls, texts, cards and care packages from former coaches, MLB starters, bench players and their parents alike.
Kevin has been blown away by the volume of responses. But at the same time, he’s not too surprised at the gist of their messages, given his dad “never seemed to meet a stranger.”
Dennis Albert Tally, known to all by his middle name, was born May 8, 1944, in Chatham County to William and Florence Phillips Tally. He graduated from Chatham Central High, where he was an accomplished second baseman/shortstop and sharp-shooting point guard
Albert’s first two jobs out of school were at the Pepsi-Cola Company, and then at Hart Furniture Company in Siler City. His friend, Harold Hart, had hired him. When a store manager position later opened up, Hart offered it to Albert, but he wasn’t interested. He didn’t want to work weekends.
“Just take it until I find somebody else for the job,” Hart told him.
Albert did — and he ended up working as a manager for 48 years, until the store closed in 2013 after Hart, its owner, died. For years, Albert would joke about his friend, the manager position and the replacement who never supplanted him: “Well, I guess Harold’s still looking.”
Albert and his sons Keith, 55, and Kevin, 52, started commuting 45 minutes to Chapel Hill for baseball games during the Mike Roberts era of the 1980s and ’90s. But Kevin said their attendance was “on and off” until the program fired Roberts and hired Fox, a former player, as its new head coach in 1998.
He still remembers their first road trip: to a weekend series against Virginia in April 2000. Their group was the only one without a family member on the roster who made the trip to Charlottesville.
“From there, it was history,” Kevin said. “We were just adopted into the baseball family. We have gotten to know so many parents, brothers, sisters and girlfriends over the years.”
“If there was such a thing as frequent driver miles, Keith, Kevin and Albert would have been at the top of the list,” Fox added. “I was amazed at the places they went, how they traveled.”
The Tallys chose a great time to go all in on UNC baseball, too. Under Fox, the Diamond Heels became an ACC and national stalwart that made seven trips (including four in a row from 2006 to 2009) to the College World Series in Omaha. Those games were among Albert’s favorites — and yes, he often drove.
“Albert loved Omaha as much as the rest of us,” Fox said. “I take comfort in that our program and our players were able to give him such joy.”
Albert and Fox had a special bond, a 20-year friendship defined by a joint appreciation for UNC baseball and the sport at large, but just as much so about family, life and good conversation over breakfast.
Albert’s easy-going nature had actually mellowed Fox as a coach and disciplinarian, the Tally family would joke. When UNC held “closed” practices or scrimmages, they were never closed to Albert. When UNC’s renovated Boshamer Stadium opened in 2009, Fox asked Albert where he’d like to sit.
“These seats right here aren’t bad,” Albert said, looking down toward the very front row.
“Next thing we know, those seats are getting roped off,” Kevin said, laughing.
He said his father had a minor stroke in May and was battling colitis, an intestinal disease. But Albert was improving “quite a bit” when he had another stroke the night of Aug. 1 and died in his sleep. Kevin got the news from Albert’s sister early that morning and drove over immediately with his girlfriend.
“I couldn’t get out of the car,” Kevin said. “I didn’t want to go in.”
At that very moment, his phone rang. It was Fox. They spoke for just five minutes, but hearing Fox verbalize what Albert meant to him and the team was a godsend. It settled Kevin, enough for him to take a deep breath, enter the house and see his father.
“Perfect timing,” Kevin said of the call.
“I tried to offer as much comfort as I could,” Fox said. “I talked about Albert, how special he was, how many lives he had really truly touched. It can be a cliché, I guess, but it’s true with him.”
As soon as he got to Boshamer Stadium the week of Albert’s death, Fox had an order: remove Albert’s green chair — Seat 1 — from the lower deck and put it in his office. Although he retired later in August, Fox has given his successor, Scott Forbes, strict instructions to keep the chair safe and sound for now, while he brainstorms a safe way to present it as a gift to the Tally family.
There are plans, too, to replace Albert’s front-row chair with a Carolina blue one, a fitting tribute to a Chatham County man who loved some UNC baseball. And, boy, did it ever love him back.