January 21, 2014 by Rebecca Herman
Celebrating the Life of Jerry Coleman
And – Oh Doctor! What a life!
We arrived at the ballpark early as we expected a crowd and wanted to get in line well in advance of the 9:30 gate opening – glad we did as the line got longer and longer and longer!
With mixed emotions we greeted friends we hadn’t seen since the end of the baseball season – odd how sometimes the most solemn occasion brings people together.
It was strange entering Petco Park and seeing the left field in the process of being built-out for the Davis Cup; however, the “STAR” prominently displayed on the scoreboard quickly brought us back to the real reason we were here … to celebrate the life of Jerry Coleman.
The stage was adorned with flowers, Marine flags, and Jerry’s jerseys. The #42 from when he played for the NY Yankees. The #2 from the one year he served as manager of the San Diego Padres. The scoreboard and supplemental video screens played a variety of pictures from the amazing life of this very humble man.
People filed in … and filed in … and filed in … they just kept coming – estimated to be nearly 5,000 in attendance. We were some of the first to enter and watching the seats fill was inspiring. Jerry had touched so many lives and I have to believe he had truly no idea just how many. Besides the seating on the field, there were also designated seating areas in the stands for “GUS” Family Seating Area and “Padres Current and Former Seating Area.”
The first time I had to break out the tissues was upon seeing the STAR hanging in the broadcast booth where Jerry always sat. It was so simple yet so appropriate and so moving.
The guests to be seated on the field began filing in. So many familiar faces – Ted Leitner, Chase Headley, Andrew Cashner, Bob Scanlan – many we planned to see in a few weeks at the Padres Fan Fest but not this day – and not under these circumstances.
At last, it was time for the Memorial Service to begin. I can’t possibly do justice to the great memories that were shared but will reiterate the points that seemed to truly resonate with me … there are also links to the videos and we encourage you to listen when you have a moment. If you can only listen to a couple, Tim Flannery‘s song and Ted Leitner’s eulogy are amazing.
Dick Enberg opened the ceremony by introducing Gus – Jerry’s beloved German Shepard. Seeing Gus got me so choked up that I was unable to sing the National Anthem. Next came the fly-over in the missing man formation … wasn’t sure I’d be able to focus on the ceremony after such an opening. So fitting for an American hero.
Dick Enberg shared some great memories and delivered his thoughts as eloquently as always. He noted that they first worked together in 1970 as partners on the Angels broadcast. Points he made that seemed especially poignant were that Jerry Coleman had a consistency of character; he was humble, modest, caring … and when he hung the star, it was always for someone else.
Randy Jones noted that Jerry was the 2nd person he got to meet when he joined the Padres in 1973. Among his many fond memories, Randy noted that Jerry was always part of the 25 man roster and that you could always count on him for advice as well as an honest opinion. He let everyone know just how respected Jerry was and that he was always excited to see him.
Bob Chandler said he started working with Jerry in 1972. He was reminded of some excellent advice that Jerry gave him that first Spring Training – “You know Bob, it’s a long season and it’s a small booth – in other words, it’s a good idea to get along.” He said they always got along – why wouldn’t you get along with The Colonel? Bob went on to declare that Jerry is “the most beloved sports figure in the history of San Diego.”
Ron Fowler talked about growing up in Minnesota and how the Yankees were his dad’s team. His dad always talked about Jerry Coleman the player and the hero … through hid dad’s stories, the Yankees became his team, basically, because of Jerry Coleman. Ron noted that Jerry had been the consistent thread throughout the history of the Padres and that during Jerry’s 40 years with the club, he had seen: 9 GMs, 15 Managers, 11 uniforms (22 counting road versions), 2 stadiums (well, 1 stadium and 1 actual ballpark!), and 822 players! Throughout it all, Jerry was the soul of this organization. Ron announced that a patch will be worn on the jersey this season (already MLB approved). More tributes to come throughout the season.
Ron Roberts let us know that he didn’t grow up a Yankee fan because he was from Boston and Ted Williams was his guy! He shared a story about traveling to NY with Jerry for the 1998 World Series. Jerry used the subway system and Ron commented on how well he was able to use it. Jerry replied, “Ron, how do you think I got to the games?” It was a different time. His comments reflected how Jerry always served first – he was a friend and a gentleman. Loved Ron’s story about how he was keeping score and Jerry brought him a copy of HIS scorebook. He used that layout for 30 years and then his grandson also started using Jerry’s scorebook – he will always be remembered and missed deeply.
Tim Flannery reminded us that he played for Jerry when he was the manager of the Padres. About 11 years ago, Tim wrote, “The Man Who Hung the Stars.” This is a MUST listen to – especially the version from the memorial service.
Joe Torre spoke, I suppose, to represent Major League Baseball. He mentioned some interesting facts like how Bob Shepard debuted as the PA announcer for NYY in 1951 and the first player he announced was 2nd baseman, Jerry Coleman. Also, that Coleman was in the stadium for Yogi Berra day – also the day that Don Larson threw a perfect game. Torre did make a major error when he stated that the “Pirates” fans loved him (Jerry) in the booth for 40 years. Uhhh – that’s Padres!
Ted Leitner shared many stories, many emotions, and was simply outstanding. He noted that Coleman didn’t have #42 for the Padres because another player (a marginal one) really wanted #42 and Jerry said, “OK.” Jerry was so humble; it took 15 years for him to mention that he was Mikey Mantle’s roommate. Like others, Ted said in all the time they worked together, there was never an argument of any sort – best marriage he ever had! Only Jerry was in your living room, in your homes, for 42 years! He shared how funny Jerry was – sometimes intentionally and other times by accident. Truly, if you can only listen to one of the videos, listen to Teds’. It is 17 minutes long but time will fly.
Lt. General Toolan spoke on behalf of the Marine Corps. He stated that Colonel Coleman was an incredible example to all who serve. He loved the Marine Corps and flying. Jerry said – “Your country is bigger than baseball” and he flew 120 combat missions in WWII and Korea; was awarded 2 distinguished flying crosses, 13 air medals, and 3 navy citations. After Lt. General Toolan’s remarks, there was a 21 gun salute and the playing of Taps — always heart-wrenching for me … and for most of the folks in attendance.
Following Taps, there was a fly-over of a T-6 SNJ aircraft from 1942 – a replica of the plane that Jerry flew. In the post-ceremony commentary on the Mighty 1090, Coach John Kentara said he really felt that Jerry was flying this plane over Petco Park.
Chelsea Coleman – Jerry’s daughter was gracious to speak on behalf of the family. She said the overwhelming sentiment was, “Thank you.” She went on to say that, “Here, represented in this space, are the three things that he cared about the most: his country; his game; and the people who loved him and who he in turn loved. Semper Fi! … and BeatLA!!!”
The Padres prepared a wonderful memorial handout about Jerry Coleman and presented it to each person as we entered the ballpark. In case you were unable to attend, we have included a PDF of a scanned version here: Jerry Coleman Memorial
I will close with what Wayne wrote for our “Memories” story because it says it best ….
Baseball in San Diego will never be the same without Jerry Coleman but each night at Petco Park, when the sun goes down; God will give all the fans in attendance a reminder of our fallen hero with each star that He places in the sky. Each one is a reminder of our beloved Jerry Coleman, who Hung a Star on each great Padres play.
Wayne and Rebecca
Our other stories about Jerry: