“Hi. I’m Jack Thomson, Rush Chairman. Darned glad to meet you.”
Such is the greeting I get from the former Sierra High baseball coach when I have not seen him in a while. And it fits him – I somehow think back in the day he could have pulled that off.
But I am not fortunate enough to have known him back in the day. Not being raised in this area, I often wonder what it would have been like to have come of age and beyond with some of the names of local athletic lore I hear spoken of with such reverence, but often with a wink and a nod.
I first encountered Jack nearly 25 years ago – 1996 to be exact. He was the speaker at my son’s honors breakfast before graduation, and while I do not remember much of the speech, I do remember thinking that this was a guy I would one day like to meet.
I reminded him of that speech at the dedication of Jack Thomson Stadium on Saturday, thinking that he probably would not even remember it.
Well, not exactly.
Jack took me through that day as if it had just happened. That morning, Sierra High athletic director Vern Gebhardt asked him if he could go to Stella Brockman and say a few things about Sierra athletics. When he arrived, he found Stella Brockman teacher Annie Jesus – now Annie Cunial – and told her he was there to deliver his blurb. She informed him that he was to be the keynote speaker at the honors breakfast.
But as he often did, Jack sat back on that curve ball and belted it. Just classic Jack Thomson.
Little did I know in 1996 that I would get to know him and eventually consider him a friend. Within a few years I would have the privilege of being on the same football staff as him at Sierra High, and regardless of the situation – the dog days of summer, the wrong end of a lopsided score or the post-game party the night we swept East Union, his demeanor was always the same – cool, calm and collected.
I did see him lose his cool – once. Locked in a tight race for the Valley Oak League title, Thomson saw a ball leave the field off the bat of an East Union player and scale the fence at least 30 feet foul at Agostini Field. At least 30 feet.
And then the umpire signaled home run.
A cross between Don Zimmer and Billy Martin came out of the Sierra dugout, and it did not end well for Jack. And to make matters worse, the umpire let one of the Sierra assistants know later in the game that he did not see the ball clear the yard.
There were no foul poles at Agostini Field then. There are now. I call them the Jack Thomson Memorial foul poles.
Most of my recent interactions with Jack have been as a sportswriter after a Sierra baseball game.
And when the business of the day has been handled, then the fun begins. Although we are both fisherman, Jack is a fly fisherman and I definitely am not, and when I show pictures of my latest bounty I get ribbed about how full my red coffee can of worms were at the time.
One of the recurring themes on Saturday was how Jack taught young men about life, both on and off the diamond. The testimonials from behind the podium and from the crowd revealed a man who has impacted many, many lives, and I have a feeling that impact will reverberate for generations.
And Jack, I am so glad that I got to know you.