"There's no quit in this group, they fought. You can't ask for any more."

Dan Berry after a game

Over the seasons, in this forum, upon these pages and in my own words, I've referred to Dan Berry in a lot of ways — good, bad, ugly and everything in between.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a happier man than Dan Berry after a Crescenta Valley High softball victory. He beamed. He joked. And you'd be bewildered, perplexed and taken aback when faced with the grumpy retorts from a displeased Dan Berry after a Falcons loss.

The Falcons lost on Oct. 26, 2011, leaving everyone bewildered, perplexed and taken aback, but most of all, saddened.

He collapsed in a horrific incident on a Tuesday. It was on a Friday more than a week later that he was taken off a ventilator and, five days later, early on a Wednesday morning, he passed away.

People use grand descriptions and heap on hyperbole when someone dies. But there is no exaggeration in stating that our area sports landscape has been forever changed with Dan gone.

He was the greatest softball coach in the area's history. Period.

He was the architect of one of the area's most successful athletic programs across all sports. At the very least, he had a hand in the maturation of many a NCAA Division I prospect.

Quite simply, he leaves a void in Southern California softball, in the CIF Southern Section, in the Pacific League, in the area and, most notably, at Crescenta Valley High that can never be filled.

More than 500 wins, 20 Pacific League titles, countless playoff runs and a CIF title in 1986 — a first for any girls' team at CV, let alone the softball program — grace a laundry list of accomplishments. But as much as anything else, he was a fixture at CV, part of its blue and navy lifeblood. If he wasn't coaching softball, he was usually keeping up the field and if he wasn't there, he was in the coaches' office or at a game — whether it was basketball or volleyball or baseball. He was there.

Admittedly, I did not know Dan Berry well, but I believe I knew him as well as a sports writer could. Our conversations were long and a good portion of them were off the record. But that was about players and the program and the parents. In the grand scheme of things, he was as private as he was stubborn, he was as proud as he was passionate, he was as protective as he was competitive.

And in that regard, I believe Dan Berry very much died as he lived.

Sure, nobody wants to go, certainly not at the age of 65. But, by all accounts, he was surrounded by those who loved him, his friends and family — whether by blood or the bonds of the sport that he dedicated his life to.

He will forever be etched in Crescenta Valley chronicle — there next to third base, a pair of glasses, a T-shirt tucked into a pair of blue sweat shorts with a CV logo or Falcon emblazoned upon them.

And so, as the Pacific League softball season tees off today, it will do so with a vacancy that cannot be filled, but only remembered.

Interim Coach Mark Samford will lead a fresh-faced group of Falcons that will continue along upon a 2012 schedule constructed by the same man who created the CV program. They'll do well to keep with a storied tradition and leave upon it a mark of their own all the same.

It is likely to be a season, quite possibly for the league at large, in which a great loss will be paramount.

There's likely to be great games, controversial calls, shrewd coaching decisions, standout individual performances and, of course, a group of champions celebrating at season's end. Just how much it is a season to remember remains to be seen, of course.

It's clear, though, that as a brand new Pacific League softball season is upon us, it will feel, look and just be different, because Dan Berry is gone, but — upon the local diamonds, in the third-base box and within a league that he won far more than he lost — won't be forgotten.

Dan Berry passed away in the fall, but, as it should be, he lives on in the spring.

That's just the way I see it, playing second string.