Honor Jack, and go to a ballgame

It is with indescribable anguish that the following news is delivered:

Jack McDonald — husband of Joanne, father of John and Denise, longtime football official, longtime umpire, East Lyme guy, friend to us all — has been diagnosed with advanced liver cancer.

The news comes from John McDonald, Jack's son, East Lyme's favorite son and infielder for the Toronto Blue Jays, who has been away from his team since the weekend.

Johnny Mac called Monday from Massachusetts General Hospital, where his dad was undergoing more tests in the hope that Jack would be home soon.

Jack wasn't feeling well in the early winter. He was diagnosed with kidney cancer. Later, more tests revealed that it had spread to his liver.

Johnny Mac asks that you pray for his dad.

It's the least we can do for a guy who has been part of the sports community throughout the region for the last 40 years, all the way back to his playing days at Waterford High.

Jack is part of our fiber. He's always at the game. Any game. Every game. Jack is the guy who is quick with a joke or to light up your smoke, but unlike the guy about whom Billy Joel sings, there's no place he'd rather be than at the ballgame. Every ballgame.

He wasn't just there when John was playing his way to the majors. He was there for your kids, too. He made their games better not by merely officiating them, but even on off nights, just going to watch them play.

News of a good man's illness often prompts us to ask, "What can we do?" Here's what we can do for Jack: Go watch the kids play. Take the proper steps to become coaches and officials. Get involved.

The stories Jack has amassed over the years would make for a classic after-dinner spiel. Here are a few:

Jack, a lifelong Yankee fan, proudly sports Blue Jays gear now in honor of his son. But that only goes so far. A few years ago, when news of a possible trade to the Red Sox blew into Jack's airspace, he told Johnny Mac the following:

"John, you're my son and I love you. But if you get traded to the Red Sox, there will be none of that Boston (stuff) in my house."

Jack was in the house at Yankee Stadium a few years ago when sonny boy's aggressive (but clean) slide into second base took out Derek Jeter. Not just from the play, but the game. Suddenly, Jack's world went Twilight Zone: His flesh and blood just took out the soul of his favorite team. And 42,000 people were booing.

"What was I thinking?" Jack asked the next day. "All I could think was 'ho ... lee ... (cow).'" Clearly, Jack did not say "cow," but instead what cows do rather well.

Jack also likes to poke fun at fellow football official Mike Cooley's endearing southern accent. Cooley makes "first and goal" sound like "first and geh-wool." And so every time Jack is on the field and the situation arises, he yells, "First and geh-wool!"

Jack should know that because of him, I do the same, whether at a high school game, college game or watching the Giants. Bet he never knew that he lives on - and will live on — so long as I'm at a football game.

If anyone wants to know why John McDonald always seems to say and do the right thing, just look at Jack and Joanne. They raised him to be loyal, respectful and mindful that where you are is a byproduct of how and where you were raised. There is no better lesson.

Jack's life was about his work and his family and his community. He's made them all better just by being Jack. He's an illustration that not all acts of heroism make the evening news.

I don't know how much time Jack has left with us. But every time you get out to a local ballgame, regardless of any emotional connection, you'll be honoring the best we've got.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro.

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