The baseball community in Portland lost an old and treasured friend this week.
Tommy Sandt, 69, who served the Portland Beavers as a player, coach and player-coach from 1979 through the early 1980s and moved on to coaching roles in the major leagues with Pittsburgh, Florida and Colorado, died Monday in Lake Oswego.
Sandt was the first-base coach and infield instructor for Manager Jim Leyland at three big-league coaching stops, earning a World Series ring with the Marlins.
He played parts of two seasons with the Oakland A’s, who drafted him in the second round of the June draft out of Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, Calif., in 1969.
After leaving the major leagues, he served the Beavers as a hitting coach for a season and ran the team’s baseball clinics for kids. He came here to play for the Beavers and made the city his permanent off-season home.
His son, Tommy Jr., was a star baseball and basketball player at Portland’s Wilson High before playing college baseball at Northwestern.
He mentored many young baseball players in the area for several years and took great pride in their success. His walrus mustache was a trademark and so was his big heart.
On a personal level, he was a great friend who helped me gain a foothold as a baseball writer through his friendship, his contacts and his advice about navigating the sport on all levels.
After the Marlins won their World Series in the 11th inning of Game 7 in 1997, which I was covering for The Oregonian, he was responsible for a very special moment in my life.
After I finished writing my column, Sandt invited me down to the clubhouse for a few minutes to share in the team’s private celebration. It was a big thrill for someone who grew up with the dream of someday playing in a World Series.
His love for baseball, dry sense of humor and interest in helping anybody who wanted to learn how to play or even watch the game, made him a popular figure in his adopted hometown.
“We really lost a great guy, a very close friend and a great coach,” Leyland told Pennsylvania’s TribLIVE.com. “It’s heartbreaking, really.”
I couldn’t agree more.