Friend flush with pride over fitting tribute for baseball-loving plumber

Plumber's tribute

NEW YORK -- At the old Durham Bulls stadium in Durham, North Carolina, Tom McDonald is closing in on closure.

For the last nine years, the retired New York City Transit Authority worker has been traveling to baseball stadiums across America as a tribute to his closest friend from childhood, a plumber and devoted baseball fan named Roy Riegel. 

"One of my very best friends," Tom said.

Tom McDonald CBS News

Roy died in April 2008.

"And it was opening day. You know, that hit me good," he said.

Tom wrote a poem honoring Roy, but it wasn't enough. He needed to do more.

So he asked Roy's mom for some of his ashes, put them in an old Planter's Peanut can decorated with ticket stubs and made a plan to sprinkle the ashes at ballparks all over the country.

First stop: the old Metrodome in Minneapolis.

Roy Riegel

"It was indoors. So I said, 'What am I going to do?' I can't pour powder [on the field],'" Tom said. "And I got it. It was right there. I said, 'This guy was the greatest plumber ever. This is what we're going to do!'"

And here's where this story takes an elbow turn.

"I can almost hear him laughing," he said.

Yes, Tom decided the best way to honor his friend was to let him loose in the plumbing.

He has hauled Roy to 13 different ballparks, including Citi Field, where their beloved New York Mets play in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing.

Tom and Roy's travels CBS News

"You know, even though it ends up where it ends up, for those few moments it's in the ballpark, right? I mean, if you throw him on the field, where do they go? They get blown away. They're not there after a day or two. You know, they're blown away at some point. So what's the difference, really?" Tom said.

The peanut can that held Roy's ashes CBS News

I have to admit, I found the whole thing a little sacrilegious, until we tagged along for his final flush in Durham.

Tom still had on a microphone, and it picked up nothing but sincerity.

Which is why -- although I can't speak for Roy's whereabouts tonight -- I can tell you that Tom, at least, is in a much better place.

"I think we kind of turned it around, yeah," Tom said.

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  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.