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Putnam County alumnus and Men’s Senior Baseball League pitcher Tom Pomatto hurls a pitch in the 2013 MSBL World Series for the Long Island Yankees at Salt River Field in Schottsdale, Ariz.. The lefty hadn’t thrown a pitch in a competitive game from the time an injury stopped his playing career in 1974, until he pitched in a MLB Fantasy Camp for his friend and cancer patient Bunny Landis in 2011. Submitted photo
It was in 1972 when he was a senior co-ace pitcher of the first Putnam County team to go to state when it was still only one class.
America’s pastime remained Pomatto’s pulse when he graduated and stood on the mound for Northern Illinois University for two years before a left shoulder injury ended his career.
Even though he couldn’t pitch, the game still engrossed him with his memories, fandom and friendships.
One of those friendships was Bunny Landis, a woman Pomatto and his wife Susie met when they bought a house in Scottsdale, Ariz. for a summer getaway from their home in Arlington Heights.
She didn’t help Pomatto relive the memories but brought them back to life.
“She was being treated with pancreatic cancer and was invited to participate in the MLB Fantasy Camp during the 2011 MLB All-Star Weekend,” Pomatto said. “She said she didn’t want to participate but wanted her husband and her brother — meaning me — to participate because she knew how much I certainly loved baseball. I hadn’t picked up a glove or thrown a ball in many, many years.
“Once I got registered for the camp, I told my wife, ‘This will probably be the last time I have a uniform on. If it’s the last thing I do, I’m going to pitch and I don’t care if my arm falls off. There is nothing to save my arm for, but I want to get on the mound one last time.’”
When the 60 campers were divided into four teams, they were assigned one of four players from the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks World Series championship team.
Pomatto’s coach and former Diamondsback pitcher Greg Swindell asked who wanted to pitch.
The Panther alumnus, who combined for a 15-2 record, 197 strikeouts and 31 walks in 112 innings pitched in the fall of 1971 and the spring of 1972, quickly raised his hand and strolled to the mound.
Not only did he feel good, but he pitched the entire seven-inning game.
“At the end of camp, I had had so much fun, I had the uniform on and I felt like a little kid again,” said Pomatto, who can still toss a 70 mile-per-hour fastball. “I told my wife, ‘I may have to look into this, I feel pretty good.’
“At the age of 57, after 37 years of not playing, I returned to the mound and I’ve pitched probably 250 innings over the last couple of years. It has been a lot of fun.”
Fast-forward 2 ½ years and Pomatto, 59, is still pitching in the 45-and-up Men’s Senior Baseball League in Scottsdale, Ariz..
The injury that put a sudden halt to his college playing days has been nowhere to be seen or felt as the left-handed hurler hadn’t suffered any baseball aliments until elbow tendonitis accumulated before this year’s summer season began.
Pomatto still wears the uniform, just as a first baseman until his elbow is healed. Joe Massino, who went 191-42 coaching the Panthers from 1966-75, said Pomatto always had excellent control.
In fact, he believes the MSBL pitcher, who shared the ace title on the state team with then-junior and fellow lefty Jim Moriarty, walked two batters during his entire senior season of high school baseball.
Massino has made a trip to Scottsdale to see the 2010’s version of Pomatto.
“He did very well that day,” said Massino, who was inducted to the Putnam County Hall of Fame in 2012 along with the 1972 baseball team. “He got the win and they couldn’t hit him. He can’t throw as hard as he did in high school but he is still pretty good.
“I wasn’t really surprised that he got back into playing. He was always a competitor and in good shape physically besides the shoulder injuries. He has taken care of himself and he is really enjoying it now.”
Outside of baseball, Pomatto has used his marketing degree from NIU — he stayed enrolled after his baseball career was finished — in the office products industry since graduation in 1976.
Pomatto holds the title of vice president of commercial sales at the office and is known as dad to a Siamese cat named Piper Jet and a French Bulldog named Boeing.
Although Pomatto lives outside of Granville, he still interacts with friends and teammates from high school, including Mike Urnikis.
Urnikis, who exchanges emails with Pomatto, graduated in 1971 and was part of the team that finished with a 27-4 record — which was better than the 1972 state team’s record of 23-7.
“I didn’t think he would ever pitch again,” Urnikis said. “One day I get an email with a picture and he’s pitching hardball, which is hard to believe. I was pretty shocked because of his injuries.
“Back then, most managers didn’t let you mess with a lot of junk, but Tommy had a good curveball. He had a decent fastball that he could place really well and his hook, which was his strikeout pitch. He was a junk pitcher back then, but now everybody has it. I’m sure Tommy ranked up there with the five best pitchers in the area his senior and junior year.”
The surprisingly competitive MSBL, as Pomatto put it, keeps him testing his ball control abilities on his junk-ball skill-set.
And with each pitch, he’s thinking about his friend and what she brought back into his life.
“On the last day of the three-day camp, we got to play at Chase Field (the Diamondbacks’ park) and that’s the day we got Bunny in a uniform and got her on the field,” Pomatto said. “She took an at bat. She couldn’t run or anything but literally within a week of the camp she had a stroke and died probably a month later.
“As I say, it was the last gift Bunny ever gave me. I think of her every time I put the uniform on and go out to the mound. It’s a pretty cool thing that she gave me.”
Brandon LaChance can be reached at 220-6995 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @NT_LaChance.
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