I missed Opening Day today, but I will miss my mother-in-law even more.
Lucille Tomczak, 90, passed away Saturday and the Cincinnati Reds lost a great fan. She seldom missed a game on television and loved broadcaster George Grande, even though she never met him. She would have loved him even more had she met him.
It was only the second Opening Day I’ve missed in 43 years. My father, Harold, also died the weekend before Opening Day.
It seemed a bit apropos in both cases. My father was a huge baseball fan, a semi-pro pitcher in his day, and his baseball genes were transferred to me. And Lucille became a fan when she was in her 70s.
SHE WAS NOT a sports fan until I married her daughter, Nadine, but quickly became a fan. When Coco Cordero was the Reds’ closer and always seemed to put men on base and either escape with a save or blow the save, she would call me before Cordero threw his first pitch and say disgustedly, “Why do they keep putting that guy into the game?”
She was unabashedly proud of what I did for a living and never failed to mention to any strangers she met, “My son-in-law is Hal McCoy.”
She also never missed a Pittsburgh Steelers game when they were on TV. She was not a Steelers fan. She was anti-Steelers. Her favorite team was the one playing the Steelers that week.
She would call and ask, “Are the Steelers on TV this week? What channel?” We never figured out why she was so anti-Steelers because she was born and raised in Toledo. But she always said, “The Steelers are a mean team and I just don’t like them.” Amazingly, she had that attitude even though a distant relative, Mike Tomczak, once quarterbacked the Steelers.
SHE ALSO WAS a huge Ohio State football fan and was always upset when they didn’t show the band at half-time or pre-game. Like all OSU fans, she loved ‘Script Ohio.’
Lucille was a musician in her younger days and was the lead performer of a touring all-female band. She sang and played the saxophone for Jerry Fodor’s All-Girl band.
And she was an accomplished cook and her chicken paprikash was to die for — and after you ate it you sometimes felt as if you were going to die. Very spicy, but man was it good going down.
SHE LOVED OUR two dogs, Paige and Cooper. Paige would jump onto her lap, tail wagging at propeller speed, and Lucille would giggle when Paige licked her cheeks and nose.
For 89 years she was amazingly healthy and vibrant. We had a 90th birthday party for her and she showed up wearing coconuts on her breasts, a tiara, and a sash that read, “Miss America.”
Her downhill slide began on Christmas Day when we took her to the hospital. She was gasping for breath and was diagnosed with congestive heart failure. From that point, she was in and out of the hospital and the Cypress Pointe nursing home in Englewood. While at the nursing home she suffered a stroke and miraculously recovered with no after effects in two days. She was one tough lady.
NADINE SPENT EVERY day from Christmas until Saturday with her mother, either at the nursing home or at the hospital. As you all know, my wife is a saint. She has to be to be with me and to take care of me with my vision problems.
Lucille knew her time was coming. A couple of days before she died, she whispered into Nadine’s ear, “Soon, honey. Very soon.”
And it was soon. Too soon. She was feisty until the end. She loved wine and the last couple of weeks the doctors permitted her to have a glass of wine every day.
ON FRIDAY, 24 hours before she died, she slept most of the day, but suddenly awoke at 2:30. Her eyes got very big and her first words were, “Wine time.” She kept everybody laughing right up to her last day.
Because of her stubbornness, the great nurses at Cypress Pointe, Ce Ce West and Angel Sherman, affectionately called her, “Ornery Grandma.”
When a therapist asked her to fold some clothes to see if she could fold her own clothes, she held up a blouse and said, “I won’t fold this. I’d never wear it.”
Balls and strikes don’t mean much to me right now. There is a hole in my heart and I’ll miss those mid-game calls when Lucille called and said, “Why does the manager keep that pitcher in the game?”
Right now she is probably asking people in heaven, “Why are there Pittsburgh Steelers here?”