George Lombard hit five of his eight Major League home runs with the Tigers during his half-season in Detroit in 2002. One of those home runs will always have a special place for him.
The former Braves prospect and new Tigers bench coach was a few weeks into his stint with Detroit when the team visited Fenway Park that July. In the Sunday afternoon series finale on July 7, 2002, Lombard hit a ball to straightaway center field that cleared the wall, hit a cameraman and bounced back onto the field.
It was an impressive drive in a 9-8 Tigers win and a sign of how good of an athlete Lombard was, but it was big because of who was there to see it.
“I remember the trainer got the ball, and his wife did a lot of artwork on the ball,” Lombard recalled Sunday afternoon during a video conference with reporters. “I have the ball somewhere at my house with the home run and the date. And that was one proud moment for my grandfather and the Lombards.”
His grandfather, also named George Lombard, was a former dean of Harvard Business School, and he was at Fenway that day with other members of Lombard's mother’s family, their first chance to see young George play a Major League game in person. Lombard's grandfather died a couple years later at age 93. The family could only imagine what young George’s mother, Posy Lombard, would have thought of the scene of her son hitting a home run.
Posy Lombard grew up in New England, but she became a key figure in the south for her work in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. She marched in Alabama and Mississippi. She was in Montgomery, Ala., in 1965, when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. marched from Selma, Ala., and delivered a speech on the steps of the Alabama State Capitol. She stared down members of the Ku Klux Klan. She was one of the many who endured inhumane treatment while jailed in Natchez, Miss., in what became known as the Parchman Ordeal. Her role as a white woman marching for racial equality made her a key figure in the movement.
She later settled into life raising her three children on a farm outside Atlanta, bringing them up to Cape Cod during summers on vacation. Young George was the middle child. He was only 10 when Posy died in a car accident in 1985.
The death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police last year, and the protests that followed, brought memories of the civil rights movement to mind for many. With baseball shut down until July, then working with COVID-19 restrictions, George Lombard, who was then the Dodgers' first-base coach, thought of his mother.
“I’m used to going to the field about 9:30, 10:30 in the morning for a 7 o’clock game, and we weren’t allowed to go in that early,” Lombard said. “So I spent my time starting to research and learn more about my mom’s story and some of the things that she stood up for, and especially in that time, mid-60s to mid-70s, which was just a powerful, powerful time for so many people. And I realized how big a hero that she was.
“Her story is so unique, because she was white, and so many people can relate to that when they think, ‘What can I do to help in this matter?’ And you see the things where she risked her life and made a difference in so many lives.”
George Lombard knew much about his mother’s story, but the combination of last summer’s protests and the release of a 313-page report the FBI had compiled on Posy -- released through the work of George’s brother, Matt -- spurred him to talk about it.
“I remember going into the pandemic, and I wanted to be a better speaker,” Lombard said. “We’re all facing our fears, and it’s not my comfort zone to get up there in front of a whole bunch of people and talk. And I was introduced to a guy named Lucas Jadin, who works with overcoming fears, and he has just been a blessing to me. We talked about leadership and that great leaders are good listeners. …
“I can remember working with Lucas, and when I was telling him I want to become a better speaker, he goes, ‘Well, what do you want people to know about you?’ And I said the coolest thing about me is my mom’s story. And he did his work, so he had researched the story, and he goes, ‘I’m glad you said that, because I really didn’t want you to say being a baseball player, because that’s just something you’ve done.”
Lombard’s assignments from Jadin, a mental skills coach, included telling stories about his mom, how she had her kids keep diaries and write something positive about their siblings in each other’s diaries, how she told them about taking the positives out of difficult times. Then, Lombard had to tell those stories to other people. He told the Dodgers' staff and their players about his mother; Dodgers pitcher (and former Tigers hurler) David Price called her a “badass” and took part in a peaceful protest in Arizona in her honor.
The public-speaking work was intended to be part of Lombard’s professional development, much like his new job. He wasn’t looking to leave the Dodgers on the heels of winning a World Series championship, but the opportunity to interview for the Tigers’ managerial opening in October reintroduced him to the organization. He didn’t get the job, but the ensuing chance at a bench-coach job is a big step along the way, playing a role in game decisions. Working under new manager A.J. Hinch, whose Astros beat Lombard’s Dodgers in the World Series in 2017, before investigations into sign-stealing that season, is a twist.
“I’m super, super excited about the opportunity and working with A.J.,” Lombard said. “I think we’ve all made some mistakes in our life. For me personally, I’ve made a number of mistakes, but I think by winning a World Series, it’s easy to turn the page and focus on where we’re at now and move forward. I’ve had a long relationship with A.J. I’ve known him back from my playing days. When I first got into coaching, we picked each other’s brains, so it’s an exciting opportunity to jump in with the Tigers.”
Along the path of professional development came a personal journey as well. As the world remembers Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday, Lombard can think of the role his mother played in the movement, and how she inspires himself and others today.
“It’s definitely been the most emotional, I’d say, six months that I’ve had,” Lombard said. “The loss of my mom, we never talked about it. My brother and my sister, we talked about it, but when you look back, we needed to express our feelings.”