By GORDON GLANTZ
GORDONVILLE — The first time I met Lou Lombardo, I was a know-nothing twenty-something cutting his teeth as a rookie sportswriter.
Already a fish out of water as a natural slacker thrust into the workforce, I was playing double jeopardy because the sports editor sent me to an American Legion game – the Fort Washington Generals against someone — instead of one in my comfort zone of the Perkiomen Valley Twilight League.
There was this short guy coaching third base for the Generals shouting out weird stuff to his batters and baserunners, and I half-wondered if he suffered from Tourette’s Syndrome before I was assured by someone, perhaps a writer from another paper (back in those bad old days of yore, multiple papers would cover sporting events), who said, “that’s just Lou being Lou.”
I covered the game, and warily approached this strange Lou character after the final out.
Before I could even introduce myself, let alone ask a question, Lou took one look at me and proclaimed “it’s Gene Wilder!”
He then summoned anyone he could – assistant coaches, umpires, players, parents, dog-walkers (and their dogs) passing by – to seek validation in his assessment that I could be Wilder’s stunt double.
Other than that I would have gladly traded paychecks with the star of movies like “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles” – among a litany of others – I didn’t quite get the connection.
Once Lou settled down, he was an amazing interview, breaking down the game in such detail that I wondered if we had just witnessed the same one.
It’s now decades later, and I look more like Telly Savalas than the curly-haired Wilder. It was a minor miracle that Lombardo – the longtime coach for both the Generals and the Mustangs of Montgomery County Community College – seemed to have even a faint recollection of me when I called him last spring for more information on his career to build a resume for what I believed to be a long overdue induction into the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame (full disclosure: I’m the chair of the Selection Committee).
Two fascinating hours after what should have been a 15-minute conversation, Lou agreed to let me bring Sofia by his backyard training facility for a hitting “evaluation.”
She had fallen into a terrible slump, and I was desperate for an expert assessment. He cautioned that most of his clients were baseball players, not softball players, but he would take a looksee.
I brought Sofia over for what was to be a 50-minute lesson early last May.
About 2 ½ hours later, her whole approach was broken down and built back up with what he calls linear hitting.
She did so well, that he had her elevated – as a sixth-grader – as being a Division III-level college recruit.
I left feeling like I had flipped Andre the Giant off my back, especially when he agreed to take her on as one of his few softball students.
It was like getting an acceptance letter from an Ivy League school (especially when we added catching to the course load).
The only remaining hurdle was Sofia.
Lou’s passion and enthusiasm seemed to have left her rejuvenated, in terms of confidence, and she couldn’t help but chuckle at many of his antics.
Still, would she want to come back with this guy who claimed to be 79 years old and was encouraging work with a hula hoop to increase power and naming her bats?
That question was answered as soon as we got in the car, even before the doors were closed.
“Wow,” she said, without being prompted, “that was fun. … And I can’t believe he is 79.”
Lou – who is actually a decade shy of 79 — made it clear that he was really an advisor, and only needs to see her every now and then, christening me as her new hitting coach.
I was initially reticent, but I now feel that I can break it down pretty well when we practice in the backyard.
He not only can teach the players, but also the teachers of the players.
And this is just a small sample of all the players – of both sexes and of all ages – that he has helped become better ballplayers.
Ironically, Lou gives homework to his students – and their parents, who he makes stay for the sessions (I would anyway, being a helicopter sports dad) – and I gave some to him as nominee.
As part of his Hall of Fame nomination process, to sell it to the rest of the committee, I wanted him to put together a coaching tree.
What that is, in layman’s terms, is a list of former players and assistant coaches, etc. who have gone on to carve out their own impressive niches in the baseball world.
Football example: Doug Pederson and John Harbaugh, both of whom won Super Bowls, are among those from Andy Reid’s coaching tree (not that I’m rubbing it in Reid’s face too much that he is still chasing a ring down like the last pastry at the buffet table).
The first “tree” Lou gave me was a page, but he knew he was forgetting some people. The next was a page and a half, but the retired history teacher at Upper Dublin High still wasn’t satisfied. The final product was closer to three pages long.
I don’t want to tell Lou this, but the committee barely glanced over the list. His reputation preceded itself, and he was in on the first ballot and will be inducted as part of the Class of 2019 at Presidential Caterers on Tuesday, Nov. 26.
Lou touched a lot of people’s lives during his coaching career, and has privately expressed – more than once – how he would like to look out over the room and see a representation of his career, from different eras, looking back up at him as he delivers an acceptance speech that he promises will be nothing short of the Gettysburg Address.
Tickets still remain for the event, and can be purchased at the following link: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2019-montgomery-county-coaches-hall-of-fame-banquet-tickets-72532381305 or by calling 484-868-8000.