When I heard about the recent passing of the legendary baseball player Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra, it reminded me of my grandfather. About ten years ago, my family attended a New York Yankees spring training baseball game in Tampa, Florida. I was in the heart of my sports fanatic phase (which lasted until… well, maybe it still hasn’t ended), so I was ecstatic to have the chance to see some of the great players of our generation, like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, in person.
My ten-year-old self begged my family to show up an hour before the game in hopes that I could get an autograph or picture with my heroes, Jeter and A-Rod. I’m disappointed to say I never met either of them, and I couldn’t tell you who won the game, much less the Yankees’ opponent that day.
However, I did get an autographed baseball from one old Yankee legend. I didn’t recognize the man at the time, but he just seemed important, as everything he said in his baritone New York accent made the surrounding crowd laugh.
“Who’s that?” I asked my dad.
“That’s Yogi Berra. That was your grandfather’s favorite player,” he said.
My grandfather passed away before I was born, but in all of my dad’s stories about him there was some reference to his love for baseball, specifically the New York Yankees. When he was a kid, my grandfather used to go to the Yankees' minor league games to try and get autographs from the up-and-coming Yankee superstars of the Golden Age, such as Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio and, yes, Yogi Berra.
I always loved hearing my dad’s stories about my grandfather because, to take Mr. Berra’s words, my love for baseball was “like déjà vu all over again.” I think that’s why I always thought of my Yogi Berra autograph as so much more than just a leather ball with some old baseball player’s signature on it. The ball serves as a symbolic link for me to the grandfather I never knew and the father who taught me my love for sports.
There have to be countless stories like mine about Yogi Berra because he transcended generations. The three-time MVP’s baseball skills are still spoken of today, as his name often comes up in debates for the greatest catchers of all time. His witty remarks are still quoted and even have their own name: “Yogi-isms.” The insurance company Aflac even ran a highly successful advertising campaign with Yogi as their front man, almost forty years after his days in Yankee pinstripes.
He without a doubt touched the lives of many, including myself, and for that, I say thank you, Mr. Berra. You will be greatly missed.