No one knew the Little League rule book quite like Jose “Joey” Paez.

With his thick framed glasses and usually wearing an old baseball cap, he was unassuming and humble. Yet when it came to that rule book and being an unwavering champion for fair play and player safety, no one was bolder or more respected than Joey.

Paez, 57, passed away Saturday from lifelong heart complications. He was a devoted fan of Alice Coyote sports and an active member of the St. Joseph Catholic Church community, but his passion and his love was Little League. Altogether, he volunteered some 40 years of service to Little League baseball and even softball. Several years ago, Paez joined Little League’s District 22, which oversees the organization’s baseball and softball leagues in Alice, Ben Bolt-Palito Blanco, Benavides, Bishop-Driscoll, Falfurrias, Freer, Hebbronville, Premont and San Diego.

Paez was the district’s information and safety officer. Aside from many responsibilities, he also visited each ball park before the season to ensure each was fit for play and met Little League’s safety guidelines.

“He breathed it. He breathed Little League,” Joey’s brother, Jesse, said as he fought back tears. “Little League was everything to him. He couldn’t wait for Little League to start up every year. When it was over each year, he was already ready for it to start over again.”

The Paez brothers began volunteering with Alice National League in 1978 when their mailman, Neto Leal, who himself was a longtime volunteer with the league, asked the teen-age boys if they wanted to coach. They both ran a team that season, and their contributions to the league only grew from there. Eventually, they went from coaching and managing to helping organize the league. They also handled scorekeeping and announcing during games. When Jesse moved away for work, Joey stayed with the league and became as much a part of the old Buena Vista Park’s scenery as Lattas Creek which runs nearby.

Jesse said Joey’s passion for the rules that governed Little League began early on.

“When we started, we began to realize that there were all of these made up rules locally,” he said. “Joey would say, ‘Dude, that’s not in the rule book.’ He starting checking and looking and he learned everything in there.”

Jesse said his brother began to influence the league in a positive way.

When he first began volunteering with Alice National League, he managed a Major League team which had finished the season tied with another team with an identical 10-5 season record. Since his Flournoy team had two losses to the team it was tied with, coaches around the league put Paez’s team in second place in the standings, as it had always been done.

However, Little League didn’t recognize head-to-head results when determining season standings. Rather, according to the rule book, it simply used each team’s season record, which means the two 10-5 teams, regardless of their previous meetings, were tied and would have to play a one-game playoff to determine first and second place.

While everyone around him argued about local rules and tradition, Paez, with the rule book in his back pocket, won the day. He quickly gained a reputation as the one to call to settle Little League disputes, especially during all-star tournaments, when teams are playing for a shot at advancing and when the passion of players, coaches and parents is feverishly high.

Once all-stars would start up every summer and teams were playing in tournaments around South Texas, Paez would get calls from everywhere.

“He would always tell board members, ‘If it ain’t in the rule book, then it’s not happening,’” Jesse said. “Everyone would ask him questions about the rules and this and that. He always picked up on everything. I remember, one time we were home after some games and they called him from Falfurrias because there was a game that was stopped because of a dispute. Joey was like, ‘stay in the field and make sure the umpires don’t leave. I’ll be right there.’”

District 22 administrator Joel Resendez said it’ll be impossible for Little League to replace someone like Paez.

“We’ll need two or three people to cover what he did for Little League here,” Resendez said. “Just the knowledge and history he had from all these years, He knew coaches and administrators from way back. You just can’t replace that overnight.”