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Published: 12/25/2004

Happy returns: Ex-players can't forget lessons taught by Toth

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Andy Toth was an All-City player and helped Waite win the league championship in 1963. Andy Toth was an All-City player and helped Waite win the league championship in 1963.
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It's taken some 35 years, but Joe Correa and Ed Johnson have returned the gift they were given as students at Woodward High School.

The package they first opened on a dusty baseball diamond at Wilson Park in Toledo's north end back in 1970 was nicely wrapped but didn't come with a bow or shiny packaging.

The original present they were given at the field on Mulberry and Oakland didn't need batteries, but it never stopped working.

There was no written warranty and not once was it ever implied, because there was never the thought of exchange.

At least not until last year, when Correa and Johnson were among the first in what would become a very long customer service line for the man who made the original sale.

Andy Toth spent 30 years in Toledo Public Schools, teaching mathematics and auto mechanics. For 11 of those years - on and off, beginning in 1969 - the University of Toledo graduate coached baseball, with two stints as an assistant at Woodward to head coach Fred Cieslewski book-ending a year when he was the head coach at Macomber.

The retiree was back at Woodward on May 21 last year, substituting in auto mechanics.

When Toth returned to his South Toledo home that evening, he began to feel sick. Four or five times he was afflicted with severe diarrhea.

He woke up just before 1 a.m. and went to the bathroom again.

Toth poured some water, but didn't feel like drinking.

When he walked out of the room, the 1964 graduate of Waite High School looked one way for his dog and then the other.

It's all he remembers.

When he woke up 10 minutes later, having fallen face-first into the wall, Toth's head was bleeding and he couldn't move.

Softly, he called for his wife of now 33 years, Elaine. At first, she thought she was dreaming.

It would have been easier.

Dreams are fleeting. Reality can last a lifetime.

"I told her, 'Elaine, pull my arm from behind my back,'●" Andy recalled. "My right arm."

Andy's arm was in front of his body.

The man who for years had used that arm to throw batting practice to hundreds of youngsters had been fooled by a curve that is still breaking today; an off-speed pitch that rivaled the one he used to confound Correa and Johnson.

A stroke was ruled out. So was a heart attack.

Andy turned 57 the morning of his fall, which is believed to have been caused by dehydration.

There would be no birthday cake. A tracheotomy was performed and a feeding tube was inserted into his stomach.

Instead of birthday cards, he began receiving get-well cards.

Andy Toth was paralyzed with an injured spinal cord.

Just before Woodward's reverse raffle in January of this year, Joe Correa heard about the troubles that had befallen his former coach.

Andy was in a nursing home in Waterville then, one of several stops that he had made since the accident. His wife was struggling with insurance and financial issues associated with round-the-clock care.

Correa, president of ABC Seamless Siding and Windows, hadn't seen his coach in at least 15 years.

"Andy is the nicest, politest gentleman in the world, " Correa said. "He doesn't drink, doesn't smoke, doesn't cuss.

"And then there's guys like me."

Correa already had a ticket for the Polar Bear raffle, but when organizers auctioned one number guaranteeing a spot in the final 10, the former center fielder and first baseman at Woodward thought about the coach whom he had just visited, the one who taught him to be patient at the plate.

This at-bat, Correa hit a home run. When the third-to-last number out of 200 was drawn, only two tickets remained; his and Andy's.

The proceeds - $3,200 - went to Andy's care.

Within weeks, Correa stepped up to the plate again.

When Andy needed transportation to attend Waite's Hall-of- Fame dinner where the former All-City end and placekicker in football was to be inducted, Correa paid $125 to rent a handicapped-accessible van.

This time, Correa brought along a cleanup hitter. He hooked up with Johnson, a former teammate and vice president of sales for Blako Industries.

"That's when Joe and I got the idea to get Andy his own van," said Johnson, a pitcher and second baseman at Woodward. "He needed this to have an improved quality of life and freedom."

Correa was lying in bed one night, wondering where he was going to find $32,000 so that he could get the transportation Andy needed. That's when he decided to fix the problem.

"Joe called me and said, 'Good news, I bought a house,'●" Johnson said. "'What do you mean you bought a house? I didn't know you were looking for one.'

"He said, 'Not for me, for Andy.'●"

Correa went to a Lucas County sheriff's sale and spent $99,000 on a foreclosed property at 1260 Cady St., in Maumee.

The sale closed in June, but the work was just beginning.

While Correa was busy gutting the house and collecting $25,000 worth of donations in material and labor from fellow building and remodeling professionals, Johnson mailed a postcard to 13,000 Waite and Woodward alumni and teachers, detailing Andy's story.

Giving knows no season.

The checks began to pour in throughout the hot summer, ranging from a dollar to $1,000. In all, more than $8,000 was raised.

Correa's 1,300-square-foot ranch in Maumee was sold in September at a $20,000 profit. Andy's van was delivered shortly thereafter.

The former coach now lives at Lutheran Village at Wolf Creek where all of his friends and family are insured to drive the 2002 Ford Windstar with the doors that operate automatically and the ramp that opens and closes with the touch of a button.

"It's not just the van," Andy said. "It's the moral support that's helped me get through. Without Joe and Ed and the support of my family and other friends, I wouldn't have been able to last this long."

Andy can now move both of his arms. Whether he'll ever be able to move from his electric wheelchair is something only time will answer.

"A couple of months ago, 'I asked, 'Why you, Andy?'●" said Correa, who will continue to hold fund-raisers to support his coach. "He said, 'Joe, I've never said, why me?'

"He said everything happens for a reason."

Even if those involved never know what that reason might be.

"Andy was always preaching to us,'' Johnson said. "All the time, he would say, 'Do it right. Whatever it is, do it right. Do it right, boys.'●"

It's taken a while, but Andy's gift has been returned.

No questions asked.

Contact Dan Saevig at:

dsaevig@theblade.com.



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