My life with Tom “T-Bone” Giordano began when I was 14 years old. He was the varsity basketball coach at Copiague High School on Long Island when he decided to move me up to the varsity in the middle of my sophomore year in the fall of 1963. It was then that I saw my life change from a shy skinny kid, into what would become a wild ride with Mr. G. He was known to us as Mr. G at Copiague H.S.
Not that many students, including myself, knew of his baseball background. We didn’t know he had been a professional ballplayer and once played for Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1953. That he once bested Henry Aaron for the home run title in the Sally League in that same year. To us he was just this dapper, popular teacher who everyone gravitated to. It was instant recognition if you were seen talking to him. He was cool to be around.
As a basketball coach, he was very tough and expected nothing less than 100% effort on the court and in the hallways of our school. On game days we had to wear a shirt and tie during the school day. It made us stand out from the rest of our classmates. Varsity and JV players were looked up to by the student body back then. That sense of pride he made us feel was important to someone like me who never felt accepted at times by my peers. Tom allowed me to find an avenue where I could feel good about myself. It was the one place that I knew I could be the best if I worked hard enough. Tom pushed me and others to take advantage of our god given abilities.
Little did I know that 50 years later I would be thrust into his unbelievable life in professional baseball. Shall I say, “when I got the call” from Tom asking if I could drive him to Yankee Stadium in 2012, I had no idea that my life would change forever. Having been drafted by the Oakland A’s in 1968, #75 in the January draft, I saw it all come crashing down a few months later when I was drafted by another team, the US Military.
But now T-Bone was making me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I was going to finally make it to the major leagues, skipping the minors. Make no mistake about it, I was there to help him in any way he needed me. Tom was very skeptical at first of anyone new entering his world. Let’s just say, he went through quite a few “assistants.” He would refer to me as his “Special Assistant” and it worked out well for him. There were times that we were together for weeks on end, 24/7. Traveling all over the country. Even to Italy and Costa Rica.
I became a sponge and watched him do his evaluation of players, coaches, managers plus everyone from flight attendants to waiters and hotel staff. He made me feel important and valued my input on everything, but mostly baseball.
Today I am on my way to Orlando Fla. to attend a memorial in his honor. He passed away on Valentine’s Day this year at 93 years old. I will miss him dearly. The good and the bad. What, did you think there wasn’t any bad stuff? We had a unique relationship, one of highs and lows, but the highs were so exhilarating and unbelievable that there is not enough time in my life to be able to share all of it.
This summer I am going to try to retrace our steps. Going to the ballparks, hotels, restaurants and many of the places we were at together. Kind of like driving Miss Daisy again, only with an empty seat next to me. But you know what? He will always be in that seat next to me. Laughing, sleeping, telling me a story about something that happened to him in the Sally League back in 1953 and just talking about baseball. Guess I really won’t miss him as much as I thought because he will always be with me in my head and in my heart forever.