WALLA WALLA — Baseball lost a true friend and a great ambassador last week when Tom Lewis died at his home in Bellingham. He was 78.
I met Tom in March of 1981. I had just taken over as manager of one of the Pacific Little League baseball teams and Tom’s son Tommy was one of the players I inherited.
Tommy was an 11-year-old catcher who turned out to be one of the better players in the league as a 12-year-old.
At any rate, I was in need of an assistant coach, Tom volunteered and I gladly accepted his help. And a warm relationship, bonded by baseball, was formed that day.
Tom knew about as much about Little League baseball as I did back then, which was a little but not nearly enough. But Tom continued to help out after Tommy moved on to the upper levels of youth baseball, and after some lean seasons and some additional help we were able to build a winning team.
Tom was especially astute when it came to assessing player potential at the league’s annual draft in March. He was emphatic in 1984 that we select a diminutive 10-year-old because he “had a great baseball name.”
And Tom was right. Our Mike Shannon turned out to be a rock-solid second baseman worthy of his St. Louis Cardinals namesake of the 1960s.
Born and raised in the state of Maryland, Tom was a baseball fan of the first order. He loved to talk baseball, and his beloved Baltimore Orioles were a favorite topic of discussion.
Tom contended that Brooks Robinson was the greatest player who ever lived. Well, the greatest third baseman, anyway.
And he reveled in the accomplishments of Orioles pitchers Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar and Pat Dobson, who were all 20-game winners in 1971 when the O’s won the American League pennant by 12 games.
But Tom’s greatest loyalties were reserved for the programs and places where Tommy played his baseball. He and Angela, his wife of 46 years, were Saturday afternoon regulars at Pacific Little League games long after Tommy moved on, and their support of DeSales High School athletics and Kim Cox’s Irish baseball program were second to none.
Tom, Angela and Tommy moved to Walla Walla from Sacramento, Calif., after Tom had completed a tour of duty in the United States Army. Tom and Angela eventually bought the Greco dry cleaning service on East Isaacs St. and changed the name to Fashion Care Center. They operated the business for many years before moving to Bellingham to be closer to Tommy, his wife Trisha and their four children.
I would drive by the business nearly every Wednesday night on my way home from bowling, and Tom was always there, finishing up one long day and getting ready for another. The man was not afraid of hard work, although I was sure his radio was tuned to the Mariners game to help lighten the load.
I always turned my dry cleaning needs over to Tom and Angela. And if it was a Little League uniform that needed attention, it was on the house.
But you had to be sure you weren’t on a tight time schedule whenever you crossed their threshold to drop off a bundle of soiled clothes or pick up a cleaned order. Because Mr. and Mrs. Lewis could talk your arm off.
If one or the other was alone, it was at least a 20-minute visit before you could back your way out the door. Together, forget it, because they could double-team you for up to an hour.
But in hindsight, it was always an enjoyable hour shared with two good people.
There will be a Mass of Christian Burial Monday at 10:30 a.m. at the Church of the Assumption in Bellingham. A celebration of Tom’s life will be held later this summer in Walla Walla.
Memorials can be made to the DeSales baseball program.