Jerry Coleman honored at ballpark service
SAN DIEGO -- There was an F-18 flyover, a 21-gun salute and moving eulogies by former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre and Padres broadcaster Ted Leitner.
Jerry Coleman probably would have thought it was more attention than he deserved. But the people who knew him well felt Saturday's memorial service at Petco Park was a fitting celebration of the Hall of fame broadcaster.
Coleman, 89, died Jan. 5. He won four World Series titles with the Yankees and was the only major leaguer who saw combat in both World War II and Korea, flying a combined 120 missions as a Marine Corps pilot. He was a Padres broadcaster for four decades.
"If you loved baseball and your country, you loved Jerry Coleman," said Torre, who works for Major League Baseball and will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this summer. "What a life, what a man. God bless him."
Torre said he was always struck by Coleman's humility and how he "exemplified the heroism in his life that turned this gentleman into a source of awe among the people of our game for more than 60 years. Whenever our greatest generation and our game intersect, you find Jerry Coleman. He's the kind of man whose spirit is forever in our national past-time."
Around Petco Park and on Padres radio broadcasts, Coleman was known as "The Colonel," having retired from the Marines with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He was the only major leaguer to see combat in two wars. While his friend and fellow Californian Ted Williams was a Navy pilot in World War II, he didn't fly combat missions. Williams did fly combat missions in Korea.
Coleman was awarded two Distinguished Flying Crosses, 13 Air Medals and three Navy Citations.
Torre recalled that he wasn't a Yankees fan while growing up in Brooklyn, but the way Coleman played the game "caught my attention. He always played hard, never appeared to be a whiner and then you found out all the other attributes he had. When I met him, it was great to find out he was everything you expected."
During Torre's tenure managing the Yankees, Coleman attended several old-timers' games. Torre said it was apparent the respect Coleman had from his peers. "The Yankees of old were his team. Jerry Coleman was the kind of man who made me proud to wear the Yankees' pinstripes," Torre said.
Leitner, who was Coleman's broadcast partner for more than 30 years, said Coleman didn't know he was the only major leaguer to fly combat missions in two wars until Leitner told him.
"Nobody had that resume in the history of this country," Leitner said.
Leitner recalled Coleman's speech the day he was inducted into the broadcasters' wing at Cooperstown, and how he said that after traveling to every village and hamlet in America, he felt as if he was home. Leitner said that actually didn't occur until Monday, when Coleman was buried at Miramar National Cemetery following a private funeral at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
"There, he's surrounded for eternity by his fellow Marines," Leitner said. "Now my partner is truly home."
The stage was set up near second base, a nod to Coleman's position.
Four F-18s flew over Petco Park after the national anthem was played by a Marine band, with one peeling off in the missing-man formation. Toward the end, there was a flyover of a T-6 SNJ aircraft similar to what Coleman flew in World War II, a 21-gun salute and taps.
San Francisco Giants third base coach Tim Flannery, a former Padres player, coach and broadcaster, as well as an accomplished musician, sang "The Man Who Hung the Stars," a song he wrote 11 years ago for Coleman. Coleman used to shout, "You can hang a star on that, baby!" after big plays.
Coleman broadcast pretty much every big moment in Padres history, from the team clinching the NL pennant in 1984 and `98, and Tony Gwynn's 3,000th hit in 1999. Coleman came out of the broadcast booth to manage the Padres in 1980, was fired and returned to calling games.
"He brought the magic of baseball to the people of San Diego for just about the entire existence of the Padres," Torre said.
Daughter Chelsea Coleman ended her eulogy with, "Semper Fi and beat L.A.!"
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Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press
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