A home run for Lou
Jan 29, 2013 | 576 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Over the weekend, our Cleveland and Bradley County hometown lost two well-respected icons — one of whom dedicated his life to children and later to community service during his retirement years, and one whose love for sports made him a walking billboard for recreation and baseball.

We refer to Jim Tucker, former 20-year executive director of the old Boys Club of Cleveland who went on to become one of the early pioneers for Habitat for Humanity of Cleveland; and to Lou Fitzgerald, former director of Parks & Recreation for the city of Cleveland, and who spent 55 years as a minor league manager or scout for five major league organizations, including the Southeast’s beloved Atlanta Braves.

Tucker passed away Friday. Loved ones and friends, whose numbers were countless, offered their farewells today during funeral services at Broad Street United Methodist Church.

Fitzgerald passed away Saturday in a Chattanooga health care facility. Family received friends Monday at the North Chapel of Jim Rush Funeral Homes. A private graveside service was to be held later.

One editorial cannot adequately address the contributions and community value of these two well-known, and much admired, Cleveland leaders. For this reason, today we pay homage to Fitzgerald. In Wednesday’s edition, we will do the same for Tucker who was known as “Mr. T” by those who knew him best, especially the youngsters at the old Boys Club who held him in the same regard as big brother, father and grandfather.

Many remember Fitzgerald, in his younger years, as the cigar-stub chewing, baseball-savvy city recreation director who had as many baseball tales as he did relevant anecdotes on the need for outdoor opportunities for children of all ages in our community. It is appropriate that one of Fitzgerald’s leading achievements — among many — for the city of Cleveland came when he oversaw construction of Tinsley Park.

But the likable, down-home, wise old owl — who often graced the Cleveland Daily Banner newsroom over the years at the behest of our sports editors for interviews on topics ranging from local softball tournaments to hot Braves prospects — was also a widely respected professional within the world of baseball.

Few people can say they spent almost six decades doing what they loved. For Fitzgerald, when he wasn’t a minor league manager, he was a scout for the Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds, Houston Astros and Baltimore Orioles, and he later served as a “Super Scout” for the fledgling Florida Marlins as the team prepared for its expansion season in the National League.

Stories from his scouting years could go on and on and on depending on Lou’s time and availability.

But Fitzgerald’s roots were dug deeply into local sports, as well. He was a member of the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, the Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame, the San Antonio Sports Hall of Fame, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame, and most recently in 2011 he was inducted into the Professional Scouts Hall of Fame.

His service to the city of Cleveland forever will be remembered. He was a man who held great value for sports and recreation, but “Louie” as he also was known, best understood the positive influence of both on the lives of young people at all age levels.

Fitzgerald’s love for helping others has carried well beyond the grave. At his death, the family has requested donations be made to The Caring Place and/or to the Bradley Cleveland Public Education Foundation.

This giant among storytellers fell from public life years ago. Yet at 93, his passing has warmed the hearts and rekindled the glow of soft memories by those who knew him best. From the comfort of a cozy city park in Cleveland to the limelight of a major league diamond, Lou Fitzgerald was most at home wherever he could hang his cap.

Almost six decades in professional baseball certainly beg the question by some, “Why so long?”

Such answers might contrast and each is probably as diverse as the next, but we believe it lies in the simplest of reasons, that which we call “... for love of the game.”