In memory of a softball legend and a longtime good friend
We lost another good resident last week with the passing of Tom Lindblad, who has been a longtime friend.
Tom spent most of his working days at the Santa Fe Railroad and was known by all his co-workers as Tommy Joe. I think Tom is one of the friendliest people I ever knew. Whenever you would meet him on the street or at a ball game he was always really friendly and he had that Tommy Joe smile.
Ironically, I didn’t first meet Tom in sports, rather it was in my basement where Tom and his father-in- law, Tom Chamberlain, were doing some emergency plumbing for me. Tommy Joe was probably better known in Kansas City, Kan., with his involvement in fast-pitch softball, umpiring, and as a player for his Santa Fe Railroad softball team.
Tommy came from a baseball-playing family with an older brother, Paul, playing major league baseball. Tom is credited for keeping fast-pitch softball alive in the Kansas City area with his leadership of his Santa Fe team. Tom persuaded Santa Fe to build a softball field in the railroad yards and, along with Irvin McGurdy, kept the fields at Santa Fe and Shawnee Field in Armordale very active with softball tournaments.
When I was in charge of the baseball program in Bonner I relied heavily on Tom to umpire the older boys’ games. When a team came to play at Lions Park, I would tell the visiting team to tell your batters they better swing at the low pitches if they are out of the dirt because our umpire is a lowball caller at strikes.
Tom had one of the better dispositions of anyone I have ever known, in and out of sports. When a coach would get on his case for a call Tom would just walk over and put his arm around the coach’s neck and within a few minutes would have the coach smiling. He was a very good umpire and was consistent in calling strikes.
Baseball ran in his family and Tom was a highly competitive player and a tremendous hitter. He played third base on defense and fearlessly played his position about halfway between third and home. Despite putting his teeth in danger, I never saw him get hit while playing so close.
Tom over the years had a very supportive wife, Lainey, who followed him around to all their tournaments. I remember one time Tom called me and said he needed a ball-and-strike umpire for a Santa Fe doubleheader with a strong team that was the Topeka Hornets. Anyone who knew Tom knew how persuasive he could be and I told him, “Tom the only umpiring in softball I have done was a WyCo for 9- and10-year-old girls and I have never called a men’s game.” So, I ended up agreeing to call the doubleheader at Lions Park and I don’t know why I ever agreed to do this but it was game time and the home team Santa Fe batted first. The Hornets had a pitcher about 6-foot-5, and on his first pitch of the game I made no signal on the call. The catcher looked up at me grinning and asked what the call was. I replied, the call I didn’t make because I didn’t even see the ball. I asked the catcher if it was a strike he said yes so I called strike one. I had seen fast-pitch softball many times but never standing behind a catcher. This Hornet pitcher was tall and lean and threw nothing but smoke. It was a good bunch of guys and they didn’t raze me too much, but after a few endings I did begin to see the ball. I don’t remember how Tom’s team came out but they were good games.
Tommy Joe was very hyper but was one of the friendliest people I ever knew. The employees at the Santa Fe Railroad all loved the guy and he has been missed very much at the railroad. I would like to extend my condolences to Lainey and all of Tom’s relatives he has left behind. I have never talked to anyone who didn’t like Tommy Joe. Heaven will be getting a good man and I just hope they have fast-pitch softball up there or, if not, will soon have it with Tom’s presence.