LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- The fans streamed into the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center on the Montclair State campus Sunday afternoon, taking a trip through the life of the late Yankees legend, guided by the displays of memorabilia, photographs and captions.
There he was, young and strong, standing with a frail-looking Babe Ruth, shaking hands in the 1940s. There he was with George Steinbrenner after The Boss apologized in 1999 for firing him as Yankees manager 16 games into the 1985 season. There were his three AL MVP plaques, his bronzed catcher's mitt from Don Larsen's perfect game, and pictures and a jersey related to his Mets days.
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People put up tribute notes on a board and a wall. They packed the seats in a small theater, ringed inside by a replica of the Yankee Stadium facade, for a Q&A with three writers who covered Berra.
Later, the Hall of Famer's three sons and two of his grandchildren sat in front of the crowd. Fans asked them questions and listened and laughed at the stories they heard.
This wasn't a day for sadness about a 90-year-old's death on Sept. 22. This was a public memorial to celebrate an iconic man's remarkable life.
"I knew Dad was my dad; I knew he was famous," Larry Berra said. "But the outpouring of love and admiration for him has just been over the top.''
Mike Ellman arrived with his wife, Sue Ann, and came dressed for the occasion, wearing a blue Yankees T-shirt with "Berra" and "8" on the back.
"Being here today was sort of helping with his memory, to let everybody know how much he'll be missed," said Ellman, a 64-year-old Bronx native.
Berra and his late wife, Carmen, lived in Montclair for more than 50 years. That's also home to the Guarino family.
"We knew Mr. Berra," said Joe Guarino, who was accompanied by his wife and two children. "We met him in town. We knew Mrs. Berra. They were so kind to everybody. They were just regular, nice people. We just wanted to come out and be part of it."
Lindsay Berra, Larry's daughter, cherished her time with a Navy veteran who also happened to be her quotable, 10-time World Series-winning granddad.
"He was the same with me and my dad and my uncles and my cousins as he was with everyone he would meet on the street, except we had to eat his burnt hot dogs," she said. "He was just such a special guy in that respect, that as famous as he was and as loved as he was by so many people, he really was just a nice, down-to-earth, humble, loving guy. He never changed."