ROCHESTER – As the beige Lincoln Town Car motored toward its destination three weeks ago, and the "Rochester" signs appeared on the highway, Tommy Klemenz grew excited in the back seat. "Rah, rah, rah !" he yelled with a smile. "Rah, rah, rah !" Red Wings manager Phil Roof stared straight ahead in the driver's seat, listening sadly to his brother-in-law. "Rah, rah, rah is his translation for Rochester Red Wings," Roof explained. "He thought we were going to Rochester, New York."

Sadly, that was not the case. Phil was driving his wife, Marie, to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., a 706-mile trek from their home in Boaz, Ky. They brought along Tommy, 43, who has Down Syndrome and whose legal guardians are the Roofs. They went to fight cancer, an aggressive enemy that has struck Marie hard. "We went there looking for answers," Roof says, "and for a way to beat this thing."


The first omen came last fall. Back home in Kentucky after Phil's second season with the Red Wings, Marie underwent her annual physical, and her doctor noticed a high enzyme count. A month later, another test showed the count near normal. "Our daughters had gotten on the Internet and it said this was a precursor to cancer," Phil says. "I told the doctor, 'If this is a serious matter, I'll quit my job.' He said 'No, I wouldn't do that.' So we kind of forgot about it."

In early March, Marie felt pain in her lower back and pelvic area. She had accompanied Phil to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training, and her daily 1.5 mile walk had become so painful that she eventually stopped. Phil asked the Minnesota Twins doctor to look at his wife. They ruled out a ruptured disc because she still had strength in her legs and lower back. Arthritis was possible, they said.

When spring training ended on 3 April, Marie returned with Tommy to Kentucky and Phil headed north with the Red Wings. On 20 April , she underwent an MRI. Phil was in Buffalo with the Wings when the call came from his beloved wife of 41 years. "Phil, I have bad news," Marie told him. "I have cancer. It's in my lungs and lower back." "I'm coming home," Phil said.

He took an indefinite leave of absence from the Wings, handing over the reins to coach Rich Miller. At 64, he had planned for this to be his final season in baseball. But he had never planned on this ending. "Sometimes you suspect the worst in life," Roof says. "In reality, that came about." Roof headed to Rochester. Then, after an emotional meeting with members of the front office, he was driven to his apartment by general manager Dan Mason. "You know, Mase," he said, packing his suitcase, "forty-one years feels like two weeks right now." He was home that evening.


The Roofs are deeply religious people who believe in God's will. But they will do anything to put their world back on its axis. Phil called Terry Ryan, the Minnesota Twins GM. "We need a second opinion," he said. "Do you think I could get into the Mayo Clinic?" As luck would have it, Twins owner Carl Pohlad is a major contributor of the world-famous hospital. Within 24 hours, the Roofs were making plans to head to Rochester, Minn., for an evaluation. That week, they arrived and Marie was put on a treatment plan.

arlier this month, she underwent a week of radiation concentrated on her pelvic, lower back and brain. The next week, it was strictly the brain. "I asked the doctor, 'Why aren't we treating the tumor on the lung?'" Roof said. "He said 'Phil, we've got to clear up the tumor in the brain first. If that fails, everything else is a waste of time." The radiation treatment itself lasts 15 minutes. The prep work is much more involved. A frame is made for the head, the body is strapped down and blocks are put in place to prevent any movement. "We get in there and get out," Roof says. "An hour later, she's fatigued. She comes home and sleeps." "Home" during their two-week stay in Minnesota was a two-bedroom condo owned by Anna Restovich, the older sister of ex-Wing Michael Restovich.

Michael was placed on waivers by the Twins in late March, but Anna graciously gave up her condo, located five blocks from the Mayo Clinic, and moved in with her parents. "They are an incredible family," Roof says. On 15 May , Ryan invited Roof to the Metrodome in Minneapolis to see the Twins play the Texas Rangers. He walked into the clubhouse and received more hugs and handshakes than a politician on the campaign trail. Then he sat and watched many of his former players contribute to a 5-2 Twins victory. "I needed a day like that," he says. Friday, the Roofs and Tommy drove back home to Kentucky. In a few weeks, Marie will undergo another MRI to see if the brain tumor has shrunk. Chemotherapy also may begin soon.


The Roofs have been overwhelmed by the support they have received — from the Twins organization, the Restoviches and numerous Red Wings fans. Phil has received more than 200 phone calls, including one from former Wing Jeromy Palki, who's pitching in Mexico. The Red Wing players raised $500 to help defray some of Phil and Marie's expenses, and the front office matched it.

"We've received well over 100 cards from well-wishers," Phil says. "Tommy goes out each day to put mail in the box and to bring the mail in. It's his job, and he's proud of it. You can't do it. He wants to do it." Tommy is aware that something is wrong with his big sister but doesn't realize how serious the situation is. When Phil and Tommy would pick Marie up after her treatment, he would hug and kiss her, shouting "Rie-rie!" Marie has been overwhelmed by the support. She wrote a statement this week for use in this article. It read. To the Red Wings community and fans in Rochester: We were overwhelmed when we returned home from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., to find so many cards, letters and get-well wishes. Your care and concern has been an inspiration and courage for us to face this challenge in our lives. A sincere thanks for all your support.


Roof has tried to follow the Red Wings as closely as possible during his month away. He reads stories on the Internet and speaks with Miller and pitching coach Bobby Cuellar regularly. "I'm just tickled to death that they are playing well," he says. He spends most of his time on the Internet educating himself about cancer, as do his four daughters, who are spread out from Kentucky to Oregon, and from Missouri to California. "Everything we can get our hands on," Phil says. Melanie, 38, lives in Lancaster, Calif., with her husband Chris, a rocket scientist at Edwards Air Force Base. Melanie gave birth to Phil and Marie's seventh grandchild Saturday, a boy named Carson Christopher Sturgis.

The Roofs say Marie's illness has deepened their faith. "We can't get over the number of people praying for her recovery," Roof says. "The rosary is part of our everyday life. It's never entered our minds to ask 'why us?'" The Roofs are involved with nine different doctors. Four are in Kentucky and four are in Minnesota. The other, Dr. Kenneth Pennington of Indiana, is the father-in-law of Red Wings outfielder Todd Dunwoody. "He's the one we throw questions on the wall to, and he gives us his undivided opinion," Roof says.

Marie's prognosis is not good. "I asked the radiation doctor (last week), 'Are you treating this for recovery or remission?'" Phil says. "He said 'remission.' He said the (survival) rate is less than a year." Phil has noticed "more quietness" about Marie. "She's always been outgoing, the life of the family," he says. "Now she's quiet and reserved." Marie is a longtime smoker. Her mother and sister died of cancer. "I have to think it's in the genes," Phil says.

He is asked the question everyone asks: Will you return as Red Wings manager ? "It doesn't look good," he says. "We've got to do everything we can to educate ourselves. What scares me is it's in the fourth stage, and it's in several areas." Phil remembers last fall when he was mulling retirement, how Marie urged him to give it one more year. "If she said no, I would have stopped right there," he says. "She's my wife, my best friend, my confidant." The fight continues as the cards pour in. "As a doctor told me, 'Miracles do happen,'" Phil says. "That's what we are focusing on. Miracles  do happen."

Special to Canadian Baseball News – 28 May 2005

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