CD's Connect the Dots… A Phone Call…. Never Made

It is said that contrition is good for the soul. I hope so, as mine is a troubled soul today. A dear friend, and Phillie phanatic left us on Wednesday, proving the adage, "that only the good die young," has merit. If Tug Mcgraw represented all that was good in the Phillie player, and Paul Owens embodied all that was good about the Phillie front office, then Tom Clark epitomized the best in a Phillie fan. Loyal, caring, honest and with a heart of gold. Sadly, it was this very heart that failed.

Tom Clark was better known as "Top Cat Tom" on most Phillie websites, a knowledgeable and patient man who never tired of talking about the team of his passion…our Philadelphia Phillies. Born and raised in Levittown, Pennsylvania, he lived in the same house almost all his life.

At 41 years of age, Tom was the youngest of six children and had a love for the Phillies that only a true believer could ever comprehend. He almost never missed a game, though his health kept him from attending games in person. Nevertheless, he was one of the most astute Phillie fans I have ever met, and it was this passion for the Team in Red that so endeared him to everyone.

His story is one that combines courage, tenacity and a deep religious faith, and it is this story that made him so unique. Born to a family with a predisposition to heart problems, he had lost his mother 5 ½ years ago to a heart attack. The 13th of 13 children, his mother had seen all 12 of her siblings pass to heart problems before her untimely death.

Though this affected Tom greatly, his devotion to his father and the Phils occupied a great portion of his life. My first encounter with him was on a Phillie website, and I was immediately impressed not only with his knowledge, which was impressive, but his patience, which was even more admirable.

Our friendship grew out of our passion for the Phils, and the friendship included a Saturday morning ritual, a phone call to talk about everything Phillie red. In writing this column, I have acquired many treasured friendships, and his was among the finest. Every Saturday, we would discuss the Phils; the opinions, thoughts and rumors about the team, were a delight to share.

However, last Saturday took a busy turn - too much to do with too little time to spare. The day slipped away and I had forgotten to give my friend a call. Thoughts about it filled my consciousness the following day. No problem, I convinced myself, certainly next Saturday we would talk again. And that is how it remained until that terrible news on Wednesday morning… my dear friend Tom Clark succumbed to a massive heart attack.

Like a lightning, reality hit home - that I would never be able to say good bye to one of the bravest men I have ever known; a special someone who never complained about his plight. Tom lived with the knowledge that he had a failing heart, having survived four heart attacks previously. He must have known the next one might be his last.

Yet he never talked about this… he spent his days living the life that suited him best, given his failing health. He spoke excitedly about the Phils prospects for the coming year, and how much he anticipated a possible World Series birth. He had opinions on every subject, from the Phils batting order to the significance of having Kevin Millwood back for another year. He savored every minute discussing anything Phillie Red – just in case it be his last.

Make no mistake, either, this was no fanatic without a solid base for discussion…he counted current pitching coach, Joe Kerrigan and former Phillie coach, Jeff Manto, among his closest friends. Indeed, it was his perseverance that had probably contributed to these friendships, for he was forever emailing the Phils for information, and the Phils were forever responding accordingly.

I came to treasure the private emails I would receive from him, some to critique my latest article, some to gently chide me on my latest thoughts. Be it the Curt Schilling coming or the Kevin Millwood going, Tom was there to offer his thoughts, and good wishes, and often to provide me with the latest Phillie news.

What I knew of him was apparent… his kindness, his gentle soul and the friendship he worked to cultivate. What I didn't know, what he was too courageous to share, was the pain and suffering he had to live with – even quietly accepted and bravely stood up to it, until that fateful Wednesday.

Tom was a devoted son and took his mother's death very hard. Though he often indicated to his family a desire to "be with her", his care for an ailing father was both genuine and loving. Then two years ago, after his fourth heart attack, he was given six months as a remaining lease to his life.

One can only surmise what he felt in his solitude; he was always optimistic and cheerful on the phone. He never complained about anything except the latest Phillie loss, and even then, only briefly. Instead he spoke of Pat Burrell home runs and Billy Wagner strikeouts. He waxed enthusiastically about Kerrigan's way with pitching and the magic of a Charlie Manuel hitting session.

When the talk was about the possible return of prodigal son, Curt Schilling, he indicated that it would never happen because Diamondback GM, Jerry Colangelo, had no desire to fulfill Curt's latest wish. This proved to be correct.

As the discussion last year about "the obvious departure of pitcher Kevin Millwood," was picking up steam, he insisted determinedly that Millwood would return, that he and his family enjoyed playing in Philadelphia. Again, he was prophetic.

On May 1, 2002, when the Phils were in last place with a 9-19 record and an obviously unhappy Scott Rolen was threatening to leave, Tom surmised in print that getting Jim Thome might not be the worst possible move. He felt that this would not only invigorate the team and city, but might convince Rolen to stay. Incredibly, this predicted acquisition proved true, though too late to keep the recalcitrant Rolen on board.

His latest thoughts included keeping Ryan Madson in the bullpen, trading Ricky Ledee instead of Jason Michaels, and having faith in David Bell's ability to regain what seemingly is lost. Yet, these are stories left for another day. The story for today is about a man gone too soon, and the wonderful way in which he touched so many lives in his short life.

Given his history, it is no small wonder that he was less an advocate for the statistics of a player, but rather treasured the heart that the player displayed. Who better than Tom could understand how an indomitable heart could overcome many potential pitfalls? It is no surprise that he valued players like Placido Polanco, Todd Pratt and Rheal Cormier, players whose physical skills would never match the magnitude of their hearts.

Tom Clark, otherwise known as Top Cat Tom, or TCT as he was affectionately known, understood better than most the issues of the heart. His was made of gold, and everyone touched by it will feel his loss…I already do. Yet, as Tug McGraw and Paul Owens will live on in the minds and hearts of Phillie fans everywhere, so too will he with the family and countless faceless friends he left behind.

He was forever caring, forever giving, and forgiving. Of this I am most grateful, as it would be his forgiveness I would ask for when I see him next, for my thoughtlessness, forgetfulness, and most of all, forgiveness for a phone call… never made.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast

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