CLEVELAND (AP) — While his dad sat on a bucket in their backyard catching, little Josh Tomlin pretended he was pitching in the World Series.
He’s about to do it for real.
And his dad, Jerry, recently paralyzed from the chest down following a medical scare that threatened his life, will be there in Chicago watching.
“It will mean everything,” said Tomlin, who will start Game 3 at Wrigley Field. “We’ve talked about this, shoot, since I was 3 or 4 years old. I can remember having conversations with him — ‘Bases loaded, full count, bottom of the ninth, so and so is up to bat. What are you going to throw him?’”
“Let’s go fastball,” Tomlin said, “and I’d throw a fastball and on strike three we’d jump up and throw our gloves and stuff like that. It was cool to be able to look back and think, man, I was doing that when I was 4 years old and now I’m actually going to live it and he’s actually going to get to see it.
“That’s pretty special to me and something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
Jerry Tomlin is Texas tough, the kind of rugged guy who never missed a day of work and lives life head on — sometimes going too hard.
“He played football in high school and he always told me he was the guy on the kickoff who would go down there and break up the wedge. He was just crazy,” said Tomlin, who helped rescue Cleveland’s bandaged rotation with strong performances in the AL Division Series against Boston and AL Championship Series versus Toronto. “He’s been working since he was probably 12 or 13 years old until this incident happened.”
In August, Jerry was working at a power plant in Whitehouse, Texas, when he fell ill, his stomach tied in knots. With the pain worsening, he was taken to a hospital where doctors initially thought the problem was being caused by his gall bladder.
That’s when things took a critical turn as Tomlin’s body went numb. He underwent an MRI and numerous tests, and the 57-year-old was rushed into surgery after he was diagnosed with arteriovenous malfunction, a condition that affects blood circulation near the spine.
Josh Tomlin, already in the midst of one of the worst months of his career, rushed home after the Indians arranged a private jet so he could get there quickly to see his dad and be there for his mom, Elana. The pitcher made the trip fearing his dad might not survive.
The procedure saved Jerry’s life, but it has left him in a wheelchair with a long, difficult road to recovery ahead. It’s not known if he’ll walk again.
After spending nearly two months in a rehab facility in Dallas, he was released last week — on Josh’s 32nd birthday. Jerry watched from his living room as the Indians clinched their first AL pennant since 2007.
The Tomlins are incredibly close, their bond strengthened by their love of baseball.
“I talk to him every single day, him and my mom both,” Tomlin said. “I’ve got a great relationship with them. They’ve been a huge part of my life and a huge part of my success in the big leagues.”
Jerry and Elena will be accompanied to Chicago by Tomlin’s aunt and uncle, and they’ll stay at the team hotel. Josh intends to spend time with his dad on Thursday night before he faces the Cubs.
While his dad was sick, Tomlin was pitching himself out of the Indians’ rotation. He went 0-5 in August with an 11.48 ERA, and while he never used his father’s situation as an excuse, it clearly affected his performance.
The ballpark was a sanctuary, giving Tomlin a place to clear his mind and where he felt a connection — with his dad.
“I think he actually thought that being here and with his teammates was helping him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I told him many times, the minute you feel like you want to be home, even if it’s for your mom, we’ll handle this. But he had a lot going on. That was tough.”
So is Tomlin, who stepped up after the Indians lost starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco to injuries in September. His team needed him and Tomlin came through, delivering the way his dad taught him.
“He’s always coached me,” Tomlin said. “I’ve heard that from a lot of my friends that played for him — he’s one of the better motivators. He’s very intense. He would yell at you and try to get the most out of you, but he treated you like a man. He expected a lot out of you, but it wasn’t like he was mad if you made a mistake.
“If you did things the right way and always gave 100 percent, he was in your corner.”
Jerry Tomlin will be there again when his son pitches on baseball’s biggest stage, the one they played on before.
“I’m just looking forward to seeing him,” Tomlin said.