By Ann Liguori
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Joe Torre, Ron Guidry, Goose Gossage, Willie Randolph, Bernie Williams, Mickey Rivers, Gene Michael, Otis Anderson, Karl Nelson, Rod Gilbert (with long hair and a mustache), Buddy Harrelson, Gil Hodges, Jr., Brian Kelly, Bucky Dent, Ralph Branca, Ron Blomberg, Rick Cerone, Dave Anderson, Joe Piscopo.
These are just a few of the luminaries who support Yogi Berra every year by attending his Yogi Berra Museum Celebrity Golf Classic, which has benefited the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center since 2003.
How wonderful it is to see Berra and his sweet smile and the warmth that always radiates from him. I’m honored to be invited to his annual charity golf outing as I drive out to Montclair Golf Club in New Jersey each June to help support Berra — one of our national treasures — and one of his legacies, the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center.
But the day was bittersweet, as Carmen Berra was truly missed. The gorgeous day seemed to be a gift from the beloved Carmen, who was married to Yogi for 65 years and passed away on March 6 of this year.
Carmen was so passionate about this annual golf outing, and every year at the dinner she would be seated next to Yogi, greeting their many friends and fans one by one, remembering conversations of the past and picking up where they left off. Carmen, always smiling and cheerful, took the time to chat with everyone, always making you feel so welcome and happy to be there.
Each year as Yogi gets on in life, you savor more and more what this man has meant to baseball and to our country. At 89 years of age, there he sat in his wheelchair, smiling and taking in the love and affection from all in the room who adore him and come every year to honor him.
In the event program, a note from Yogi thanked everyone for their love and support after Carmen passed away.
“Sixty-five years together is a long-time,” it read. “All you can do is cherish the memories.”
His sons, Larry, Tim and Dale, and their families attend every year. It’s a beautiful family affair. The tournament is organized each year by Joni Bronander, special events director for the museum.
General Art Lichte — a retired four-star General in the United States Air Force — General Chip Diehl, longtime friends of Yogi and Ron Guidry presented Yogi with a flag that was flown over Afghanistan and Iraq on a C-130J airplane. It commemorated Yogi’s military career, which included taking part in the D-Day invasion. The emotion from this presentation and the absence of Carmen made for not a dry eye in the club.
“Carmen possessed that real gentle spirit and was as consistent as anyone I knew with that warm spirit,” shared former Yankee co-captain and coach Willie Randolph. “She so enjoyed life, has these beautiful kids. Her heart is golden.”
Willie told me he visited with Yogi and Carmen often and he went to see them a week before she passed.
“I felt good that I had a chance to see her and tell her how much I loved and appreciated her,” he said.
“We miss Carmen so much,” said Bonnie Guidry, the wife of former Yankees pitching great and co-captain Ron Guidry and a volunteer every year at the tourney. “She was a great storyteller, so much fun to be around, such a classy lady … Just an all-around classic person.”
“This golf outing was one of her favorite days,” exclaimed Dave Kaplan, the director of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center. “She loved seeing everyone. She kept up with everybody’s kids. She had such empathy for everybody. She loved the museum in terms of how it inspired kids.
“She always said that, ‘If Yogi could grow up and make a great life for himself, than any kid in America could be anything they wanted to be.’”
This golf outing is lovely every year. But this year in particular, with Carmen Berra’s spirit in the room and in everyone’s hearts, it was extra poignant. And Yogi Berra and his legacy continue to touch so many people.
Information on the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center:
*conduct year-round character education programs for over 20,000 students a year, teaching young people the importance of respect, perseverance and integrity — values that Yogi has personified throughout his life.
* offer leadership workshops and team captain’s seminars for high-school students. As an extension of these programs for New Jersey high schools, we recently instituted a Best Teammate Award for the 37 schools in the Super Essex Conference (which includes high schools in Newark and nearby communities).
* have exhibits which reflect important social issues in sports. A recent exhibit, Allyship, (in partnership with Athlete Ally) examined inclusion and tolerance in sports, from Jackie Robinson to Jason Collins. Major League Baseball has recognized our leadership role and requested some of the exhibit to be shown at the All-Star Game in Minnesota in July.
*An exhibit, opening later this month, will commemorate the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s farewell, known as the “Gettysburg Address of Baseball.” Little-known to people is that when the Yankees staged Yogi Berra Day in 1959, Yogi and Carmen asked that the proceeds of the day go to Columbia University (because of their admiration for Gehrig) to create a scholarship. Yogi always regretted that he never had the opportunity to attend college. To this day the Yogi Berra Scholarship at Columbia has provided the means for dozens of young people who didn’t have the financial means to receive an Ivy League education. The museum is a hub of summer activity with camps for kids of different ages and interests.
This Friday, June 6, is the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion, and Yogi will be presented with a quilt of honor at the museum as they recognize this most significant military event in American history.
June 23-27 – Museum/All*Starz Softball Camp for girls ages 8-13
Under the direction of Leslie Korkgy-Valenti, assistant coach for Montclair State’s nationally-ranked softball team and founder of All*Starz baseball and softball instruction, the camp is held at the beautiful MSU softball park and runs from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. daily. For registration info, click here. Registration deadline is June 19.
July 28-Aug. 1 – Bruce Beck-Ian Eagle Sports Broadcasting Camp (ages 13-and-up)
Get hands-on experience and learn from Bruce Beck and Ian Eagle, two of New York’s most accomplished sports broadcasters at their 13th annual camp. Ian and Bruce guide campers through various activities to their final assignment — calling a professional baseball game. To register call (908) 233-1113.
Aug. 4-8 – Museum Baseball Camp for boys ages 7-12
Under the direction of Paul Reddick, one of New Jersey’s leading youth baseball instructors and his staff of top collegiate players, the camp focuses on fun and fundamentals, and runs from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. Click here to register.
Aug. 11-13 – Sports Business Academy for high school and college students
In association with Lunar Sports, a sports marketing and athlete representation firm, a three-day event for high school and college students looking to gain insight into the business of college and professional sports. Students will get an opportunity to learn from top-level executives from the major teams and leagues. The academy runs from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. daily. Click here to register.
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