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Bigger Than Baseball: Hero Cubs fan throws first pitch with Brewers fan he saved 15 years ago

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Posted at 11:01 AM, Jul 07, 2023
and last updated 2023-07-07 12:01:19-04

MILWAUKEE — With a Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs fan in the same room, what could go wrong?

For Tom Shraeder and Jim Saletta, everything has gone right. Just enough for the two to throw out the first pitch together for the Cubs and Brewers game on July 6.

Although the two root for rival teams, they hit it off years ago after their first few conversations.

Tom is a longtime Brewers fan. His dad would listen to play-by-play, so he's been watching and listening to games since he was a child.

"We would go to Milwaukee to go to various things like the museum, but we always loved the Milwaukee Braves games back then. I would listen to the games and write everything down that was happening. I had baseball cards and all that stuff," Tom said.

Tom grew up on a farm near East Troy. He has since moved to Barneveld, Wisconsin, a small town of just over a thousand people, located west of Madison. Driving from Barneveld to Milwaukee, Tom travels nearly two hours to watch his team play.

His buddy Jim has been a baseball fan for 66 years. His love for the sport started when he was seven years old. Originally a Chicago Sox fan, Jim's admiration for the Cubs grew in 1964. He lives in Huntley, Illinois which is about 40 miles from Wrigley Field. It's a stadium he's frequented about 200 times.

"We tried to help you with St. Louis but we only split with them," Jim said as he laughed while talking with Tom about matchups this year.

For the last 15 years, the two have been meeting each other in Chicago and Milwaukee to watch Cubs and Brewers games together.

“I’ve probably been to 300,” Tom said when referring to the total number of Brewers games he’s attended.

Out of those hundreds of visits to the stadium, there’s one particular game that stands out amongst the rest.

“July 31, 2008.”

That was the day Brewers and Cubs games became more than just baseball for Tom and Jim.

Tom doesn't remember much from that day but what he does remember is that he was supposed to go to the fourth game of the Cubs and Brewers series with his brother Joe. Joe wasn't able to make it but invited him over to dinner. Tom's wife of 52 years, Trici, wasn't able to make it to the game either.

Intending to meet his brother, Tom walked to his car. But before he could make it to his door, he collapsed.

He was having a heart attack.

"The game was over, and we were walking out, and we saw someone lying face down in the parking lot and not moving so we ran over, and we turned Tom over and his face was blue," Jim said.

Jim was the fire chief in Huntley, Illinois. He was dressed in Cubs gear with some of his senior staff. They had taken the day off to enjoy the game.

"I was right near his head. I started doing rescue breathing, opening up his airway, and telling people to call 911."

Jim said the ambulance arrived pretty quickly. First responders used a defibrillator and received a pulse.

"Chances are slim but there's that five to ten percent chance that he is going to survive long term."

Jim said everything fell into place that day. He knows how these incidents often end. He was a firefighter paramedic for 30 years and retired as the chief in 2012. Today, he still serves on the Board of Trustees.

"It kind of put a smile on my face, you know? That he had made it."

From July 31 to August 20, Tom was in the hospital. He doesn't remember much but someone who does is his wife Trici.

"I'm just going to stay by his side," Trici said emotionally as she talked about Tom's time in the hospital.

Joe's brother called Trici that day to say Tom never showed up to dinner. She had no information, only a voicemail from an unknown number.

"They said something like oh you're having a seizure, you've had lots of these before in your life probably."

Panicking, Trici remembered Bell Ambulance was always at Miller Park, now known as American Family Field.

"I called Bell Ambulance, and they said well we can't give you specifics, but we can tell you we took a 57-year-old man from the Miller parking lot to St. Luke's hospital."

The Shraeder's have a large family. Trici alone has 10 brothers and sisters. Family members joined Trici at the hospital as soon as they could. Trici remembered seeing a Walmart store near the hospital so she asked if they could bring her a few items back because she was going to spend every moment with her husband. She asked for clothes to wear during their stay, but they decided to do her one better. They bought her a notebook, as a way for her to put her emotions on paper.

For 20 days, Trici documented every step of the way. The blue notebook holds nearly 40 pages of everything that happened.

"I wrote it from the perspective that he's going to be fine and he's going to want to know what happened."

Trici said there were prayer groups all over the country, pushing for Tom to pull through. She was told by doctors that he could be brain dead and could possibly never walk again.

"Every time he woke up, he forgot where he was and what was going on. He would be so agitated and trying to pull all the tubes and wires out. We would have to settle him down and tell him where he was, what happened, and why he had to keep the tubes in."

The only thing that would calm Tom down was the Brewers. Tom could see the stadium from a window. The window was steps away, so it forced him to get out of his hospital bed and walk.

"He would take every step until he could see Miller Park," Trici said while tearing up.

"So many things have happened that I would've lost out on had I died that day," Tom said.
"How do you thank someone for this?," reporter Symone Woolridge asked.
"Never enough that's for sure," Tom replied.

The moment is now a moment they can all laugh about.

"Here's these Cubs fans doing CPR on a Brewers fan. We both have our colors on from a distance and it probably looks like we're mugging him, ya know," Jim laughed.

It's a moment they can still cry about.

"We finally arrived at home, you slept soundly for the first time in a very long time and so did I," Trici said as she choked up.

And it's a moment they can now celebrate.

"It's always been a dream as I've seen people throw out the first pitch, to do that anyway but to do it with my hero is going to be special," Tom said.

Had Jim never been at the game with his medical staff, this story could've been a different one.

Tom's daughter was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma and was told she was never going to have kids. She has since welcomed twins into the world.

The time Tom has had will all of his grandchildren is something he'll never take for granted.

“Life is so precious. Take each day, use it to help others if you can. Do what you can in life. It's always been a dream as I've seen people throw out the first pitch, to do that anyway but to do it with my hero is going to be special."