Padres honor, remember Coleman at Petco Park service
San Diego recognizes longtime broadcaster, two-war veteran with eulogies, song
SAN DIEGO -- Less than a week after he was laid to rest in a private ceremony, Hall of Fame broadcaster Jerry Coleman was honored and remembered by the Padres and fans during a moving tribute Saturday at Petco Park, where nearly 5,000 gathered to say goodbye to "The Colonel."
Not everyone was quite willing to let go just yet.
This became obvious when the man who may have known him best, his broadcast partner of 33 years, Ted Leitner, elicited tears and laughs during a eulogy of his longtime friend, someone he did more than call baseball games with on the radio.
"That's my partner," said Leitner, who either consciously or subconsciously refused to use past tense to describe Coleman, who died Jan. 5 at the age of 89. "That's my guy."
On a sun-kissed day in San Diego, Leitner and several others paid tribute to Coleman, who certainly lived a full life; decorated Marine fighter pilot, scrappy second baseman on those great Yankees teams and, of course, an icon as a broadcaster for the Padres.
"Jerry was the very soul of this organization,"said Padres executive chairman Ron Fowler.
Coleman was honored by several speeches and by the 150 Marines who took part in the ceremony. The Marine Corps Recruit Depot Band played "Taps." There was a 21-gun salute by a firing detail from MCAS Miramar, where Coleman was laid to rest Monday with full military honors.
There were two flyovers, including one by a T-6 SNJ aircraft from 1942 -- one similar to the one Coleman flew during harrowing bombing raids in World War II.
Coleman, the only Major League player to see combat duty in two wars (also the Korean conflict) was called a hero on Saturday, a moniker that he was always uncomfortable with. That designation was set aside, in his mind, for his friends who never returned home.
He was called a friend, not only by Leitner but another broadcast partner, Bob Chandler. Current Giants third-base coach Tim Flannery, who played for Coleman during his single season as manager with the Padres in 1980, sang a song about Coleman called "The Man Who Hung the Stars." About a dozen current Padres players were also in attendance.
Coleman's best friend, in his own words, a German Shepherd named Gus, was also at Petco Park. The two would take long walks each morning before sunrise.
"Jerry Coleman is the most beloved sports figure in the history of San Diego," Chandler said, a sentiment that was shared by other baseball luminaries who attended the event, like Tigers manager Brad Ausmus, D-backs and former Padres general manager Kevin Towers, and even former basketball great Bill Walton.
The Padres announced plans to pay tribute to Coleman during the 2014 season, details of which will be announced at a later date. The team will wear a patch on its home and road uniforms, the shape of a star with Coleman's initials in the middle.
Coleman, of course, is known in these parts for his "You can hang a star on that one, baby" call, one that was always accompanied with the waving a star from the broadcast booth after an impressive moment or play. It became his signature call, one that was played during a moving video tribute.
Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager who is now Major League Baseball's executive vice president of baseball operations, talked about growing up in Brooklyn and knowing Coleman's name before meeting him. The two shared time together when Coleman would return to New York for Old Timers' Day.
"Jerry Coleman was the kind of man who made me proud to wear Yankee pinstripes," Torre said. "If you love baseball and love this country, you love Jerry Coleman."
San Diego pitcher Andrew Cashner certainly didn't have the history with Coleman that many others did, though he found himself drawn to Coleman, so much so that he made it a point to seek him out before every home game.
"I always asked him to tell me something new," Cashner said. "He always had something funny to say. I remember one day I saw him and he asked if they were ever going to let me hit."
To be sure, Coleman was the star of the show Saturday. Leitner, not that anyone is keeping score, wasn't far behind. His eulogy lasted longer and resonated deeper than others. He spoke of how Coleman, who earned 13 air medals, two distinguished flying crosses and three Navy Citations as a pilot, bristled when he was referred to as a hero. His military service was off-limits in the broadcast booth.
But nothing was Saturday, as Leitner delighted the crowd with stories about his partner, his friend and, really, his hero. For 33 years, the two sat side-by-side in a broadcast booth, calling games. Leitner said they never once had an argument and that he never laughed so much as when he worked with Coleman.
That, he'll miss. That much he wasn't ready to let go of just yet.
"It was always 'Jerry and Ted' and never 'Ted and Jerry,'" Leitner said. "I was just along for the ride."