Lunkers to celebrate pair of 99s
When Andy Thomas throws out the ceremonial first pitch at Monday’s Brainerd Lakes Area Lunkers game the pregame ceremony will be much like other first pitches.
He might toe the rubber, or stand in front of the mound, tug at the bill of his cap, limber up his arm with a windmill motion, and toss the ball toward the catcher.
What will distinguish this ceremonial first pitch from others is the fact Thomas is 99 years old.
The Lunkers celebrate two birthdays Monday. The game will mark the 99th home game in franchise history. It also will celebrate Thomas’ 99th birthday, which is Thursday.
“I’m really thrilled about it,” said Thomas, a resident of resident of Good Samaritan Society’s Woodland Senior Living Apartments in Brainerd. “I think it’s a real honor for a guy like me.
“I’ve been out practicing with Dick Cook, at his place (in Nisswa). I wasn’t doing too good, but my arm isn’t sore so I'm going to keep practicing.”
Earlier Monday, Liz Csanda, community relations director for GSS Bethany, will drive Thomas to the Veterans Administration Hospital in St. Cloud for doctor’s appointments.
“All of my appointments are early so I can get back early,” said Thomas, who threw out a first pitch during the Lunkers’ inaugural season in 2009. “Then I will rest up. This is too much for me.
“I don’t think I deserve anything like this, but I have just enough ego in me that I'm enjoying it.”
Csanda and Thomas became friends when Thomas’ wife, Dorothy, was a resident at Bethany.
“To me, he's the inspiration, this is what we're all about,” Csanda said. “He started coming to Bethany when she was a resident there. She was with us for six years. Andy never missed a day, unless there was something serious going on. At that time he still had a home on Round Lake, but he would drive in.
“You’ve just got to take your hat off to somebody like that. A more dedicated husband there never was. Now, to see him after she’s passed away ... (Andy’s involved in) Silver Sneakers (at Brainerd Family YMCA), Let’s Go Fishing, Good Samaritan Bowl, Forestview Builders Club, he doesn’t miss a Twins game (on TV), he goes out to the Lunkers whenever he can.
“I think this is going to be a real fitting tribute to him. Bless his heart.”
Dorothy died three years ago, after the couple had been married an astounding 76 years.
“She died at 102,” Andy said. “She always kidded me that she was robbing the cradle.”
Growing up in Forest Park, Ill., Thomas was a fan of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox. He even served as a Cubs batboy for a few games in 1922.
“Meeting the players was something,” Thomas said. “I remember (pitcher) Charlie Root. Gabby Hartnett, he was the catcher and manager, and (pitcher) Pat Malone.
“They had a guy in center field, Hack Wilson, I met him, but I wasn’t a batboy at that time.
“We used to take the (elevated) train within a block of the park as a kid. We could afford to go to baseball game in those days.”
Thomas watched Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig play at the White Sox’s park.
“I remember once when Babe Ruth came to town,” Andy said. “They had so many people there that they roped off part of the outfield. That’s going back a lot of years. They roped off the field, put some chairs out there. Every fly ball hit out there was a home run.”
Thomas is virtually a living legend in the lakes area. He’s the only living founding member, and oldest living member, of the Nisswa American Legion. In addition, he was the club’s third commander.
Andy is the oldest member of the Brainerd Elks Lodge who’s from the lakes area. He’s been an Elk for 62 years.
“There are some (members) that moved in from the outside that have been an Elk longer than me, but I’m the oldest from the area,” he said.
In April of 2009, Andy was inducted into the Brainerd-Baxter Bowling Association Hall of Fame.
“I bowled until I was 85,” he said. “I guess I can brag a little bit, I carried a 183 average.”
He’s also one of the lakes area’s oldest veterans of World War II.
“I’m proud of the time I served, yes I am,” Andy said. “The Vets are taking good care of me, so I’m very satisfied.”
Thomas and his wife moved to Nisswa in 1947.
“There was nothing here ... when we came up here,” he said. “They were still cutting up ice out of the lake for refrigeration up here.
“I remember the Spotlight. When it was a municipal liquor store I ran it for three years. On Saturday nights, they had a dance hall in the back. I don’t know where all those people came from but we couldn’t get them all into that place.”
Thomas is sharp as a tack and in relatively good health. And, he has more technological skills than some people half his age.
“I’m not very good at this Facebook yet,” he said, “but I’m fortunate enough that I can send emails. I get by, but Facebook, I haven’t conquered that yet.
“I just got an email from Facebook, that I have 51 friends that I have to reply to — I was in the hospital for a couple of days.”