Fans pay homage to Yankees legends
Memorials, T-shirts honor Steinebrenner, Sheppard
NEW YORK -- "Gone but not forgotten."
Written in gold on a white ribbon and placed on top of a blue wreath featuring the Yankees logo outside of Gate 4, the words summed up the sentiment of Yankees fans, as they remembered and honored former owner George Steinbrenner and former public address announcer Bob Sheppard before Friday's Rays-Yankees game.
As soon as the news of Steinbrenner's passing reached New York on Tuesday, fans began creating the impromptu memorial outside Yankee Stadium, which was filled with a multitude of heartfelt condolences and messages. Newspapers, flowers, candles, hats, notes and even a Yankees jersey with "RIP THE BOSS" scrawled across the pinstripes surrounded the wreath, which rested in the center of a larger Yankees logo outside the Gate 4 entrance.
There were plenty of other visible tributes to Steinbrenner and Sheppard inside the stadium on Friday, and not just in the pregame ceremonies dedicated to the two legends who died earlier this week. Many fans, including Frank Petruzella -- who has been attending games in the Bronx for more than 30 years -- bought T-shirts outside the stadium that featured Steinbrenner's likeness.
"He's a great guy. He's going to be missed," Petruzella said. "One of the best owners in sports. He was willing to pay money to put players on the field. Some people don't like him, but that's what he wanted to do -- he wanted to win."
In addition to the T-shirts, the image displayed on the stadium's big screen and televisions -- "Remembering George M. Steinbrenner III, 1930-2010" and the occasional fan-made signs in the stands, the crowd of 47,524 also had a chance to take pictures of and with a portrait of Steinbrenner, which was placed in between a large Yankees wreath and one in the shape of a heart.
Paul Disporto, a 29-year-old fan who said he has been supporting the Yankees since the day he was born, took advantage of that opportunity, snapping photos of the man who helped return his favorite team to greatness. Voicing the sentiment of all Yankees fans, Disporto said he was happy that Steinbrenner and Sheppard went with a World Series victory in 2009.
"It's special that last year, we could bring them both a championship," Disporto said.
Like Petruzella, Disporto acknowledged that Steinbrenner's abrasive style may not have sat well with all baseball fans -- especially those supporting opposing teams -- but he created a dynasty on the field and a recognizable, marketable brand off the field.
"Steinbrenner's what the team's all about: winning," Disporto said. "It goes from the hated Yankees to actually just what this person means and what this brought everybody.
"It's special, but how can you honor him with just a 10-minute tribute?" Disporto added. "There should be a whole season, a whole decade designated to honor him -- to honor him and Sheppard. The two of them are both legends of the game, legends in this city, legends in this area."
Gone, but certainly not forgotten.
Adam Berry is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.