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Tampa residents remember Boss fondly

Former Newsday columnist Joe Gergen had mixed emotions

Former Newsday columnist Joe Gergen had mixed emotions -- all of them strong -- when he learned George Steinbrenner (above) had died. Photo Credit: MCT, 2001

TAMPA, Fla. - All was quiet at George M. Steinbrenner Field Friday afternoon.

But to Domingo Vega, the atmosphere around the Yankees' spring training facility just felt different three days after the death of The Boss.

"It's kind of quiet, man. You could feel it in the air; you can feel something's not right," said Vega, 38, who lives a short drive from the stadium in Pinellas Park. "It's hard because he was the soul of the Yankees."

A smattering of employees shuttled in and out of the executive office building Friday, including general partner Hal Steinbrenner, who came and left by mid-afternoon.

Mementos laid out since earlier in the week - candles, dried-out bouquets and a Yankees cap with the words "R.I.P. Boss, Thank You Mr. Steinbrenner" scribbled in white - still serve as makeshift memorials to Steinbrenner, who died Tuesday morning - nine days after his 80th birthday - after suffering a heart attack.

The Yankees paid tribute in New York to Steinbrenner and long-time public address announcer Bob Sheppard, who passed away Sunday, before Friday night's game against Tampa Bay, and will continue to memorialize him Saturday during Old-Timers' Day.

The memorials in Tampa were much more subtle, but evoked the same emotion.

The IHOP restaurant on the corner of W. Inman Avenue and S. Dale Mabry Highway - rumored to be a Steinbrenner favorite - donned a message that read: "George, Thanks for the Memories." Three-tenths of a mile down the road, an auto repair shop also offered its condolences to the Steinbrenner family.

The specific details of Steinbrenner's private funeral Saturday in Tampa are being closely guarded by his family.

Jim Anema, 55, a longtime Yankees fan who witnessed the construction of the team's spring training facility during his 23 years living in Tampa, said he and his family were planning to visit Steinbrenner Field before news of the owner's death broke.

"It's more of a special visit now because he's a legend," said Anema, who was born in Jersey City and now resides in Farmville, Va. "Let's put it that way. There's no way about it. He's a legend."

Though several days have passed since Steinbrenner's death, many fans said they still can't believe he is gone.

"The good ones always go first, in a sense," Vega said as he stood in the Yankees' gift shop. "We lost a good one. But he left behind what the Yankee fans wanted: a winning team."


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