NORWALK, Conn. – Partners Café owner Tom Spinola was an important a part of the Norwalk community sports landscape over the past 30 years.
Spinola, who died Tuesday at age 58, sponsored teams in recreation softball, youth softball, Little League and touch football, among others, and his East Norwalk restaurant was a popular watering hole for players.
“He was the sponsor of 10 or 12 teams, and he’s got a couple of teams in the Wood Bat League this year,’’ said Tony Cappuccia, a longtime player in Norwalk Recreation and Parks softball. “His place is the closest bar to the beach, and for the last 25 years every softball player goes to Partner’s afterwards. He was always a big part of the community.”
Spinola celebrated the success of all Norwalk teams. His restaurant is a miniature Hall of Fame for Norwalk sports over the past 30 years, with pictures of high school teams that won state championships to recreation softball teams that won national titles.
"I can’t begin to tell you the amount of support he gave to people and how many people he affected,’’ said Tom Cossuto, who plays for The Aces softball team and was a standout at Norwalk High. “From the time I was a little kid, he was someone that was always there for me.”
Even when times got tight financially and team sponsorship costs escalated, Spinola supported teams in Norwalk.
“He was always willing to write a check,’’ Cappuccia said. “All he’d ask is that you come down once in a while and grab a beer and pizza. But it wasn’t just that. Tommy was a great guy. I still go there for dinner once a month with my family. He’d always come up to talk to us, spend five or 10 minutes. That’s just the kind of guy he was.”
Cossuto’s parents were friendly with Spinola, and his Wood Bat League softball team, Ninjas, frequently visits Partners after its games on Wednesdays. “He wasn’t our sponsor, but everyone went down to Partner’s after the game,’’ Cossuto said. “It felt like he was our sponsor.”
Spinola was the son of Babe Spinola, who was a longtime coach and administrator in the Norwalk Little League. Babe has a field named after him in Veterans Memorial Park. Tom Spinola was just as influential in Norwalk sports, but in a different way. Tom Spinola learned he had cancer in December and continued working up until last month.
“It’s a big loss,’’ Cappuccia said. “People are going to miss him at Partner’s. It just won’t be the same. He was always in the corner, and he always said hello. He’d come up and say, ‘Tonight’s special are made with tomatoes from my garden, you have to have it.’ Little things like that we’re going to miss. His presence will be missed.”
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