Remembering Batz

Jim Mandelaro, Democrat and Chronicle Staff writer July 9, 2009

You may not know it

, but Rochester lost a treasure on Wednesday.

Tom Batzold, a sportswriter and editor for the Times-Union and Democrat and Chronicle for 30 years, died one month after suffering a stroke at his home in Irondequoit. He was only 56 and would be amazed by this piece of news.

He had so many plans.

He was known as "Batz" to virtually all who knew him, and he was my boss for 21 years. Batz was a friendly person, but not one to talk endlessly about his personal life. But as the years passed, I realized that Batz was more than a strong newspaper man. He was a proud father and husband. When his daughter was married a few years ago, Batz put a photo on his desk of him dancing with her in her wedding dress.

He had endless story ideas, and he understood that people want to read about people. He had a pulse on sports and pop culture unlike most people I've ever met.

 I was once assigned to find

the largest linemen in Section V and ask them their caloric intake. I was worried they would be offended. Instead, they all loved being featured in the story, titled "What The Big Boys Eat.'' It remains one of my favorite stories.

Batz was an unabashed fan of the Yankees, Syracuse University basketball and The Beatles. He was always sending me e-mails about Paul McCartney concerts, or where to find rare Beatles music. He loved The Sopranos and laughed every time he saw me plugging my ears on a Monday when he tried to talk about the most recent episode (I hadn't seen it yet).

Batz loved to travel down the Thruway and watch SU play at the Carrier Dome - and maybe make a quick stop to Turning Stone Casino afterward. He loved roulette and talked often about his success, playing the numbers of his favorite Yankees (his idol was No. 7, Mickey Mantle).

He loved going to McCartney concerts. I was in line at an October 2005 show in Toronto when I looked over and saw Batz all by himself. He had made the three-hour trip hoping to purchase a ticket to the soldout concert from a scalper.

"You get tickets a lot cheaper once the scalpers get nervous,'' he told me.

It often worked, but not

on this night. Batz was shut out and drove home.

He loved going to high school basketball games. Batz could tell you something about every player named to the All-Greater Rochester teams over the decades, though he always preferred to call it the "Super 15" (it was the Times-Union's version, and Batz was, like me, a devout T-U guy).

And he loved collecting sports memorabilia. He was at Frontier Field just days before his stroke, getting an autograph from Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew. Batz had a bat with dozens of signatures from Hall of Famers. I can't remember if he ever got a Pete Rose signature or not, but I used to joke with him that the bat wouldn't be an all "Hall of Fame" bat if Rose never got into Cooperstown.

Batz left the paper in

May 2007, not because he wanted to but because of his health. He seemed so relaxed whenever I saw him after that. He was eating better - he had discovered low-fat ice cream - and had lost weight. He loved being involved in the Irondequoit basketball program and being out of the stressful grind of running the sports department.

The last time I saw him was in February, at a party for former assistant sports editor Jim Castor. A large group of colleagues and former colleagues formed, and we told the same stories we had told dozens of times before. At one point, I left to see my wife in another room. A few minutes later, I was summoned by someone who said "Batz wants you tell tell the answering machine story."

So I did. And he laughed that hearty laugh of his.

He left the party at around 10 that Sunday night and gave me a big hug.

"We all need to see more of each other,'' he said.

"You're right," I replied.

"I mean it,'' he said.

I knew that he did. It's tough to be buddies with your boss, and we never were. But I believe all of us writers considered Batz a friend.

We lost our friend

on Wednesday. A woman - strong, courageous Pam - lost her husband. Five children lost their dad. A little boy lost his grandpa.

It's all so sad. Batz was full of life, and since leaving the paper he had enjoyed so much with Pam and the kids. Going to Yankees games was a regular treat.

I realize this blog has nothing to do with baseball, but if you've read it this far, you've learned about our man behind the scenes in sports.

Life is short. We all want to grow old. Nothing is guaranteed.

As the old saying goes, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.''