By Sweeny Murti
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How do you put into words what losing Yogi Berra means? To the Yankees, to baseball, to America?
He was a true hero as a World War II vet, one of the greatest baseball players of all time and one of the most instantly recognizable people this country has ever seen.
I knew his baseball achievements from the record books and old videos. I got to know him a little personally during my time covering the Yankees. And I can tell you it was one of the most enjoyable things about this job that I will ever experience.
PHOTOS: Yogi Berra (1925-2015)
I found it a bit intimidating to approach Yogi during my first couple years on the beat, but after a few years around the team I was able to have some small talk with him. I always tried to make him laugh. I got a good chuckle out of him one spring when an exhibition game was rained out after four or five innings and the Yankees’ pitcher had been perfect to that point. After the game was called I said, “Hey Yogi, did you jump into his arms?” He was about 80 at the time, some 50 years after he did exactly that to Don Larsen. I got a laugh out of him. He had a good laugh.
Around that time I had the privilege of playing in Yogi’s annual golf outing to benefit his wonderful museum in Montclair, New Jersey. I am not a particularly good golfer, but something got into me when I made it to the par-3 that Yogi was playing with every group. This was a big moment. Anyone in the group who knocked one onto the green and closer to the pin than Yogi received an autographed baseball. I hit the most perfect 6-iron of my life that day, right onto the green about 4 feet from the pin. Winner.
At that moment I made Yogi believe I was a good golfer. From that day forward, nearly every time I saw him, the first thing Yogi asked me was, “Hey you playing any golf lately?”
It was a thrill for me to talk to Yogi, to get a laugh out of him or a story out of him, or just walk up and talk baseball. He enjoyed doing that with just about anyone.
My favorite moment with Yogi came in 2009. It was one day after the craziest ending to a Yankees game in recent memory — the Mets’ Luis Castillo dropping the third out in the ninth inning and turning a Mets win into a stunning defeat and a Yankess victory.
The next day I was in the Yankees’ clubhouse and saw Yogi standing across the room. I walked over and asked, “Yogi, what did you think of the end of the game last night?”
Yogi grabbed my arm and said with a wink and a smile, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
Made. My. Day.
And as far as I’m concerned, Yogi, thinking about you will never be over. You left your mark in a way that so few people on this earth ever will. And it was an honor to know you. Rest in peace.
Follow Sweeny on Twitter at @YankeesWFAN