Lake City baseball legend Gwaltney dies of ALSDespite battling the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tom Gwaltney was not about to let anything stop him from enjoying the great American pastime he loved so much.
By: Regan Carstensen, The Republican Eagle
Despite battling the effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, Tom Gwaltney was not about to let anything stop him from enjoying the great American pastime he loved so much.
The former Lake City Serpents baseball manager was diagnosed with ALS in 2009, but only months later he was en route to Florida where his grandson traveled to play ball on the Rochester Community and Technical College team.
Gwaltney and his sons, Scott and Gary, joined the team for a somewhat crowded ride down to experience the excitement.
As Gwaltney’s disease worsened in the following years, the annual commute became more personalized to his needs. Scott and Gary purchased a new van and La-Z-Boy chair to take their dad to Florida in the most comfortable way possible.
Once there, the accommodations continued as everyone at the park did what they could to show their support for a man who lived and breathed baseball.
“The people would save a spot for Dad right behind home plate,” Gary remembered. “And the players would carry his La-Z-Boy out and he’d sit in his La-Z-Boy and watch the game.”
“For a guy that had the worst disease I’ve ever witnessed in my life, he was well-traveled,” Gary added. “It’s the best thing we could do for him.”
Although Gwaltney was able to attend dozens of games, he wasn’t able to cheer on his favorite teams the way any other fan could. ALS took away his ability to speak, so Gwaltney operated an electronic board to communicate with others.
The more time that passed, the less he used the board. Gwaltney was losing the ability to move his hand and eventually became limited to interacting with only his eyes.
The interaction ended altogether Thursday morning when he died at the age of 70 with family by his side.
Bringing baseball to Lake City
Although Gwaltney’s death was caused by ALS, family and friends said he never let the disease bring him down.
“He was always joking,” former Red Wing Aces baseball manager Dan Plein said.
Plein got to know Gwaltney in the late 1980s when the two managed competing baseball teams. Plein ran the Aces while Gwaltney started and led the Lake City Serpents.
“They went for a long time without having an amateur baseball team in Lake City,” Plein said. “Without him, it never would have been resurrected.”
Despite supporting different sides when it came to local baseball contests, Plein said there was no competitive rivalry separating him and Gwaltney. Instead, they got to know each other quite well.
“There was a mutual respect because we were both baseball guys,” Plein said.
The two saw less of each other after Gwaltney was diagnosed with ALS, but they came together again in September 2009 to share a memorable moment as both were inducted into the Minnesota Amateur Baseball Hall of Fame.
Valued across the board
Gwaltney’s accomplishments with the Lake City Serpents over multiple decades contributed to his recognition.
But while he was being honored by large organizations, the former manager, pitcher and bankroller for the Serpents was being honored by other people as well — everyone from the fans who watched his games to the players he managed to his sons he supported in their endeavors.
“My dad was a very loving, caring person. The thing most everybody knows is he looked out for the underdogs,” Gary said. “Anybody and everybody could play on his baseball team.”
“He’s going to be missed in the baseball circles,” Plein said.
Jon Springer expressed the same feelings in a note he left on Gwaltney’s CaringBridge page.
“Baseball has lost a very contributing, caring individual!” Springer wrote. “I can think only of a handful of others that are as dedicated to the game as Tom was. It is a shame that this man had to leave this world as the game needs more like him.”
Gwaltney’s family used the CaringBridge site to inform people of his death with a post late Thursday morning.
“He is in a better place now,” wrote daughter-in-law Robin, “and we are going to be okay.”
As family members continue to accept the loss of their father and grandfather, they have peace knowing Gwaltney thoroughly enjoyed his life — even after the ALS took away his communication skills.
“He could still smile, so we knew we were doing the right thing,” Gary said.
Gwaltney never did let go of his love of baseball.
“How ironic to get Lou Gehrig’s,” Gary said, reflecting about his dad. “It’s kind of fitting that he died from a disease named after a famous baseball player.”