After 90 years of breaking down barriers, achieving his aspirations and making quite the name for himself, Yogi Berra unfortunately passed away Tuesday night. The Montclair community that he had once called his own took to remembering Berra’s tremendous feats as well as memorializing his inspirational career.
In response to the news Wednesday morning, Montclair State University, home to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center and Yogi Berra Stadium, soon became filled with those paying their respects and simply taking the time to reflect on their personal connections to the former Yankee. Throughout the day, individuals could be seen placing their hands on the prints Yogi once made himself at the museum, laying flowers by his statue and even saying prayers in his honor.
While the museum waived the usual fee for visitors on such a historic day, news trucks from outlets across the area gathered outside. With balloons in the air and petals on the walkway, the memorialization of Berra was a remarkable sight.
Whether one looked up to him while playing Little League or simply passed the museum on the way to classes each day, Berra touched the lives of almost every Red Hawk.
“I was lucky enough to see him at the Yogi Berra Museum as a little kid and, ever since, he has changed my life for the better,” said Daniel Waffenfeld, a sophomore Television and Digital Media major. “He was someone that could connect to the people and make them believe in themselves more than they could. He was a veteran, Yankee, Met, World Series champion, role model, hero and most of all, a person that will be remembered for ever.”
Making his major league debut on Sept. 22, 1946, the 21-year-old Yankee may have had little knowledge of the incredible journey his career would take him on. During his 19-year run, Berra won a total of 10 World Series, earned the league’s Most Valuable Player award three times and retired with the most home runs as catcher. Later, he would also become manager to several teams in major league baseball, including the Yankees, and be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Tori Davey, a junior Nutrition and Dietetics major, said, “He wasn’t just a Yankee legend, but he was also a legend in the game of baseball and throughout sports.”
“He’s one of the best baseball players ever – one of the greatest people ever,” said Dante Giannetta, a junior Television and Digital Media major. “It effects us mostly because we hold his museum. Go pay tribute to him, praise him and see his accolades. He’s won so many things, he’s had an amazing life, he’s an inspiration for so many people and his memory is just going to live on, honestly.”
TJ Hitchings, a freshman Television and Digital Media major, said,“He’s just one of those players who played the game the right way and treated people of all ages with equal opportunity.”
A local resident of Montclair for over 50 years, Berra was awarded with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Montclair State in 1996. In addition, his oldest son graduated from the university. Alongside his late wife, Carmen, Berra had maintained his collegiate connections as a member of the College of the Arts Advisory Board as well as a frequenter and supporter of many campus events.
In honor of his dedication to the university itself, Yogi Berra Stadium has and will only continue to serve as a namesake and tribute to the former Yankee’s memory. Initially opening their doors in 1998, both the stadium and museum will continue to welcome those who wish to learn, as well as remember Berra and his cherished past.
“I may be a Dodgers fan, but I have nothing but respect for the man known as Yogi Berra,” said Kevin Rabanal, a junior Television and Digital Media major. “He was a true role model for baseball players and fans everywhere. Although his life here on Earth is over, I believe that he has placed a lasting legacy that will be remembered for generations to come.”
Anthony Festiggi, a freshman Justice Studies major, said, “His legacy is his dedication to the sport on and off the field [and] his dedication to his country.”
“Yogi was the one that really sparked my interest in baseball because, growing up, my dad would always tell stories about him,” said Bobby Serrani, a fifth-year English major. “He played a big role in my own appreciation of the sport and he’ll be greatly missed by myself and, I’m sure, all of the aspiring Yogis out there. He’s one of those legends that I know everyone will truly remember, be it here at Montclair State or any other school with a baseball field.”
Though the connection most Red Hawks felt to Berra stemmed from some of their earliest childhood memories and dedication to the university as a whole, several individuals from across the state came to Montclair with the simple hope of sharing their own experience.
“I’ve always admired Yogi,’’ said fan Erik DiNardo of Montville, N.J. “I met him once at a restaurant and he was just a class act. He was the same on the field as he was off the field. He touched a lot of people. The things he said will always live on.”
“When I was seven years old, I decided I wanted to be a baseball catcher because of Yogi Berra,” said fan Scott Laiacona. “I’ve played baseball all through my life and I followed in his footsteps, I guess. He was my idol when I was a kid. I always see [Yogi at Yankee Stadium] once in a while. Knowing that he’s gone, I’ll never get the chance again. It’s a sad day in baseball.”
With numerous fans coming to the Montclair State campus in just one day, the legacy the former Yankee leaves behind is one that will only continue to inspire the campus community.
“Our students are so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about Yogi Berra and his outstanding contributions to baseball, through the Yogi Berra Museum, located on our campus,” said Dr. Karen Pennington, Vice President of Student Affairs and Campus Life. “They can [still] actively participate in our American pastime by cheering on our baseball team at the great Yogi Berra Stadium.”
At the far end of campus, those who have dedicated their time to the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center are working to ensure that the words of advice and acts of encouragement that Berra left behind will forever be remembered.
“When you walk into the museum, you’ll see Yogi’s [personal life] really come out,” said Kevin Peters, Museum CEO. “You’ll see a big picture of the family. You’ll see his cooperation, his mentoring and you’ll see his dedication to the United States in service. He was so special in his wording and you can see just by the expressions of the folks you deal with at the museum, we were all touched by his life and saddened by his passing.”
“I’ve known [Yogi] a long time,” said Dave Kaplan, Museum Director. “He was involved with the museum and not only is he an idol and an icon, but he’s a dear, dear friend. Yogi had a wonderful relationship and association with the university. We have a wonderful partnership with the university [and] I think it’s only going to strengthen as the years go on.”