Patti White had successfully pulled it off. Bob Furlong was thoroughly surprised, she said.
On a hot July Sunday afternoon last summer, White successfully orchestrated Bob Furlong Day at Veterans Memorial Park in Calverton. Furlong, who shared the general manager title for the Riverhead Tomcats of the Hamptons Collegiate Baseball League with White, had been in and out of hospitals in his battle against leukemia. When he arrived before the start of the doubleheader that day, he was taken aback by the turnout and the tributes that were paid to him.
When the doubleheader ended, Furlong sat down at a picnic table, looked at White and said: “You’re a maniac. Why did you do this?”
White said that is when she knew she had done a good job. “I said, ‘You need to know how much you’re loved,’ ” she said.
More expressions of that sort are being heard and seen now in the aftermath of Furlong’s death Tuesday night at Stony Brook University Hospital. He was 58.
His brother, Jim, said the death was attributed to heart failure. In addition to fighting leukemia, Bob was on kidney dialysis, his brother said.
“He battled this so courageously, to his very last breath, just worrying about everybody else,” said White, her voice tinged with emotion.
Furlong was one of the HCBL’s founding fathers and a fixture in Riverhead youth sports, having coached Little League teams. He was also a big sports fan. The HCBL combined two of Furlong’s loves: baseball and college sports.
“This was his biggest passion here the last 10 years,” said White.
Furlong met HCBL president Henry Bramwell for dinner at a restaurant two weeks ago. Although Furlong appeared “very, very thin” and didn’t look well to Bramwell, he still retained his sense of humor and spoke optimistically about the coming season.
Sadly, it will be the league’s first without Furlong.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Bramwell.
If there was a Mr. Tomcat, it would have been Furlong, who had been with the Tomcats since their inception in 2009. Bramwell said Furlong was instrumental in the league getting off the ground.
“He was our brother in baseball,” Bramwell said. “We love Bob and he is just going to be sorely missed. He is one of the people who created this league.”
Jeff Heppner, a 2005 Riverhead High School graduate who caught for the first Tomcats team in 2009, said Furlong was a fixture in the Riverhead sports scene. “I played baseball in Riverhead for 15 years and I don’t remember him not being there,” Heppner said. “He had his finger on the pulse of pretty much everything baseball in the area.”
Ed Schlitter, who played third base for the Tomcats in 2010 and 2011, learned of Furlong’s death while scrolling down Facebook.
“He was just an overall good guy,” Schlitter said. “He had everyone’s best interests in mind. He was running a business, but I think being a GM of the Tomcats was something he was passionate about and when you do what you love, it doesn’t seem like work.”
Tomcats assistant coach Rob Maccone, who is also the Riverhead High School baseball coach, said Furlong would come to Blue Waves practices and games from time to time and he would let him sit in the dugout. “He was just always around town,” Maccone said. “I know it’s a big loss for the Tomcats, but I think it’s even more a loss for Riverhead.”
Furlong was known for his calm demeanor and dry wit.
“Bob was the perfect gentleman,” Bramwell said. “He was always calm and thoughtful. Getting the league off the ground was messy at times and chaotic. Bob was the voice of reason. Bob would just sit there calmly during the meeting. He always chose his moments. He wasn’t the one leading the conversation, but many times he would finish the conversation because he made a great point.”
White said Furlong was courageous, generous, wise and had tremendous organizational skills. “He touched everybody,” she said. “Even if you met him for five minutes, you were better off.” She added: “He was so unassuming. He was the most humble, the most unselfish man I ever met in my entire life.”
Farmingdale State pitching coach Randy Caden managed the Tomcats for a handful of years and worked closely with Furlong.
“He was a class act, a gentleman to work for,” Caden said, adding, “He was a loving, giving type person. It was always about someone else, not himself.”
White said the Tomcats will dedicate their 2017 season to Furlong. It will also be the first year in which the league presents the Bob Furlong Award, which will go to the player who best exemplifies the highest level of integrity, teamwork and leadership on and off the field.
Furlong, who lived in Hampton Bays, is survived by his wife, Shirley, their children, Katie and Dennis, as well as two brothers, Jim and Larry.
Furlong was cremated, said White. Plans for a memorial service at St. Mary’s Church in Hampton Bays have not been finalized.
Following the pregame ceremony on Bob Furlong Day, Furlong told The Riverhead News-Review: “I’m humbled. I’ve always thought of myself as just being part of a larger group, a team, people just trying to make this possible. I’m happy that people feel that I’ve made somewhat of a difference, and I have a lot of gratitude for their feeling that way.”
Photo caption: Tomcats general manager Bob Furlong and his wife, Shirley, during the pregame ceremony in his honor this past summer. (Credit: Robert O’Rourk)