NASHUA – If you’re a former Major League ballplayer or prominent sports celebrity and a phone call comes in from George Katis, you’re definitely taking it.
That’s because Katis, a prominent businessman in Manchester and Nashua, treats them well for a good cause in his fundraising work with professional sports franchises around the country as the Ted Williams Foundation executive board member and gaming manager.
“I’m the Ted Williams guy,” said Katis, who befriended the late great Red Sox legend decades ago.
“We use our expertise in the sports world to help them raise money for their charities. That’s what we do. That’s why I do it. I’m using this to help other charities, and I use my connections because I’m the Ted Williams guy in New England. How big is that?”
Big enough that Katis rescued the Ted Williams Museum in Florida some 15 years ago, moved it to Tropicana Field, home of the Tampa Rays and it has thrived since.
Big enough that Katis hosted about 800 of his closest former ballplayer friends, as well as fans for the annual Ted Williams Induction Dinner at the Philadelphia Phillies spring training complex in Clearwater, Fla., in February.
It’s an annual event, but what made this year’s special was the fact it featured renaming the museum’s Pitching Wall of Fame to the “Roy Halladay Wall of Achievement,” in memory of the former Blue Jays/Phillies pitcher, who died tragically on Nov. 7, 2017 in a plane crash.
The renamed feature’s first inductee was former Yankees great Ron Guidry. Overall inductees this year included prominent former Major Leaguers Tony Perez, Dick Allen, Andre Dawson, J.R. Richard and former Phillies manager Charlie Manuel.
The event may be the highwater mark for Katis and his work in rescuing the museum.
“After Ted died, it was all going down,” Katis said. “I told them I was going to take over the museum; give me a year-and-a-half, I’m going to guarantee all the losses.”
Katis recruited former New Hampshire State Police official Dave McCarthy, who had retired to be head of security for the Boston Celtics, and recruited him to run the museum.
“I said ‘Dave, you are now the new executive director of the Ted Williams Museum. You’re getting $1,000 more than you’re getting now and I’m moving you to Florida,” Katis said.
The next year, they worked out the move to Tampa from its former home in Citrus Hills. It just so happened the Rays new owner, Stu Sternberg, idolized Williams. This year, the Rays put new grass down on Tropicana Field, so the induction dinner was moved to Spectrum Field in Clearwater.
“We have a big-time relationship with the Phillies, we do all their silent auctions in spring training,” Katis said. “It wasn’t dinner on the field, it was a baseball event. One of our best events. You could sit anywhere in the stands, on the third base side.”
Funds raised were split up among various charities, and two scholarships were given out that night. It’s come a long way from the main fundraising that Katis did 15 years ago, courtesy of the Red Sox, with silent auctions at Fenway Park and the Ted Williams Granite State Baseball Dinner. Katis still works the Granite State Dinner today.
He felt this year’s induction dinner was the best.
“Number one, we had a fabulous lineup,” he said. “It was a beautiful night. We’re in an open Major League baseball stadium, a big scoreboard lit up running highlights of all our inductees and highlights of Ted’s career.”
Plus, a fireworks display at the end. Another coup was Katis getting former Phillies great Steve Carlton to appear. Carlton,who barely spoke to the media when he played, is rarely seen in public these days.
“You never see Steve Carlton,” Katis said. “The Phillies were ecstatic that he came.”
Katis convinced Carlton to come to the Rays game on April 13 with the Phillies at the Trop and the event raised, Katis estimated, some $80,000.
“Dave and I feel pretty proud of ourselves,” Katis said. “The players think the world of us. We know how to treat them. Dave and myself have been around the biggest stars of the game for decades. The satisfying thing is all the good we’re doing.”
But here, that’s not really common knowledge.
“People know me as a business guy,” Katis said. “They didn’t have any idea of my sports involvement. No one has any idea, because I don’t tell anybody. I just do my thing.”
Well, his thing right now is working pretty well.
Katis owns and operates Nashua Wallpaper Co., which in addition to its Nashua stores, has two affiliate locations in Manchester – Dean’s Carpet One on Hanover Street and Queen City Paint on Lake Avenue.