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Santa Cruz native Tom Urbani, 54, a former MLB pitcher who coached youth baseball, dies

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Former MLB pitcher Thomas Urbani, a loving husband and father, avid fisherman and baseball man through and through, died Wednesday morning at the age of 54.

His grieving family, who chose to keep his cause of death private, plan to hold a memorial service sometime in the near future.

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Urbani, a former standout at Harbor High, Cabrillo College and Long Beach State University, was drafted a total of four times before signing with St. Louis Cardinals after they selected him in the 13th round in 1990.

Santa Cruz native Tom Urbani pitched for St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers during his four-year MLB career. He was also a talented hitter in college and proved it at the professional level. (Contributed)

The 6-foot-1, 190-pound left-handed pitcher made his MLB debut with the Cardinals, coached by Joe Torre, on April 21, 1993. His teammates included a pair of future National Baseball Hall of Famers in shortstop Ozzie Smith and closer Lee Smith .

“It was fascinating,” Urbani said in an interview with Gold Country Media in 2003. “It was just the little things I remember that mattered the most.

“You go out to BP (batting practice) and hang out and there’s people taking pictures of you warming up and people putting things up for baseball cards and reporters from St. Louis. I hung out with guys that at a moment was bigger than life for me.”

Professional baseball was Urbani’s dream from Day 1. He wrote that goal down as a student at DeLaveaga Elementary when he and his classmates were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.

“His passion was 100 percent baseball,” said Matt McCullough, Urbani’s half-brother.

Urbani made his final MLB appearance with the Detroit Tigers in ’96.

In his four-year MLB career, he posted a 10-17 record with a 4.98 ERA and 1.54 WHIP. He started 36 of the 81 games he played in and struck out 149 batters in 260 1/3 innings.

He finished his professional career with Rimini BBC in the Italian Baseball League as an Italian-American player in ’99. He returned to Santa Cruz County, where he coached at Harbor and Scotts Valley highs before moving to the Folsom area.

The former St.  Louis Cardinals pitcher Tom Urbani, a Harbor High and Cabrillo College alum, enjoyed fishing in the Sierra Mountains in his spare time.  (Contributed)
The former St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Tom Urbani, a Harbor High and Cabrillo College alum, enjoyed fishing in the Sierra Mountains in his spare time. (Contributed)

“He loved fishing in the Sierras, with his dad and with his kids,” McCullough said. “He loved being in the mountains.”

He worked as a mortgage broker after his baseball career, but remained active coaching baseball and giving individual and group lessons. He was also an active member of his church.

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“His ability to connect with kids and make their own skills shine was through the roof,” McCullough said.

The first two times Urbani was drafted, he was selected as a position player. He was a standout first baseman with a big bat. He and players like teammate Jason Giambi helped LBSU reach the College World Series in 1989.

As a National League pitcher, Urbani got a chance to hit. In ’95 he hit .316 (6 for 19) with a home run and three walks.

“He always said ‘I should have been a hitter,'” said Harbor baseball coach Joseph Allegri, who had Urbani on his coaching staff from 2015-17.

“He was one of the wildest two-way players I’ve ever seen and one of the greatest people I’ve ever crossed paths with,” said Matthew King, who coached Urbani at Cabrillo in 1988. “He was kind and funny and kind like anyone I’ve ever known… but on game day… the player showed up and he was ALL business.”

Teammates and students alike enjoyed Urbani’s personality, demeanor, knowledge and passion.

“The kids loved Tom,” said Louie Walters, the Falcons’ athletic director. “He was a happy guy and the kids gravitated to him because of who he was. He was a total asset to our baseball program. He spent many hours at Scotts Valley High.”

Allegri said Urbani always shared stories about his playing days and was great at teaching the kids an off-speed pitch to complement their fastball, especially the changeup. He also loved to talk about food, especially barbecue or anything Italian.

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“He loved to eat,” Allegri said.

Urbani inspired Pirates hitters to go up the middle or do whatever it takes to rattle opposing pitchers with a cool prize. Literally.

“If they went up in the middle and did something to make the pitcher look funny, he would promise to bring them a jar of ‘Urbani’s Ragu’ spaghetti sauce,” Allegri said.

Urbani is survived by a wife, Lisa Urbani-Palacios, three children, Cody, Vanessa and Gabe, and a granddaughter, Briella.

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