Yogi Berra never ceases to amaze me. As I headed into Montclair Golf Club to play in The Yogi Berra Museum Celebrity Golf Classic this past Monday, there was Yogi in the doorway of the pro shop, signing autographs, joking with golfers and smiling that big, warm, loveable Yogi smile. Yogi, at 86-years-of-age, is still going strong, very much involved with his annual celebrity-charity golf tournament that benefits the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center and continues with a schedule that would make most people's head spin ... people half his age! In fact, Yogi visits the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center almost daily when he is in town.
The center, which underwent its first renovation since it opened 12 years ago, will reopen to the pubic this Sunday, June 12. It has been closed for nine months as it underwent a $3.2 million expansion. The building's new features include the exhibit gallery and theatre and a stunning glass atrium and lobby.
At Monday's golf outing, Yogi stayed on the 8th hole of the first nine course at Montclair Golf Club in West Orange, New Jersey, and hit his tee shot and posed for pictures with every group that came through. Joni Bronander, Director of Special Events for the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, told me that he was there three days before the outing to practice! He has been doing this since the tournament first started. In fact, I remember the year when he had a hole in one on that hole!
In 2009, Yogi was named the Classic Ambassador for the Bob Hope Classic in Laquinta, California after playing in the tournament 15 times from 1995-2009. This past January, I had the privilege of playing in the Bob Hope Classic and everywhere I went, from handing out checks to the many charities that benefit from the tournament, to playing on the many courses used throughout the week during the PGA Tour event, there was Yogi doing what he does best -- smiling, talking to people, signing autographs, spreading joy. I was amazed at the number of times I saw Yogi -- he was everywhere being his magical, adorable self!
Yogi uses a cane now to steady himself as he shuffles. But it doesn't seem as if he is slowing down, continuing his hectic schedule of appearances and travel. He still attends the first game of every series at Yankee Stadium.
Yogi and Carmen, his loving wife of 62 years, are the closest thing our country has to royalty. They are both national treasures. Yet they continue to share, in their humble, unassuming way, their passion and energies with so many people and causes, so that "everyone in America can be what they want to be," added Carmen, as they spoke about how important The Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center continues to be. The mission of the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center is to preserve and promote the values of respect, sportsmanship, social justice and excellence through inclusive, culturally diverse, sports-based educational programs and exhibits.
Each year, Yogi tears up when he thanks all the celebrities who come out to support the golf outing.
Mayor Rudy Giuliani called it "the best golf outing of the year with the best guy in sports." Yogi's sons Dale, Larry and Tim joined Nick Swisher and the Yankees coaching staff, who got back from the California Angel's game in the wee hours to make Yogi's tournament. Andy Pettitte, Ron Guidry, Joe Torre, Mike Torrez, Gene Michael, Ron Blomberg, Ralph Branca, Rick Cerone, Mickey Rivers, Rod Gilbert, Ken Daneyko, David Cone, Brian Kelly, Bud Harrelson, Gil Hodges, Jr., Karl Nelson and Joe Piscopo, were among the many celebrities who attended.
One of the new displays at the Museum will be the jersey that Yogi wore during the 'perfect game' on October 6, 1956 when he jumped into Don Larsen's arms after the first and only World Series perfect game. Dr. Richard Angrist purchased the pinstripe relic at an auction for over $500.000. Joni told me that Dr. Angrist is loaning the jersey to the Museum until March 30, 2012. A display of Berra's 10 World Series Baseball rings will be on display along with additional photos and other items from Berra's legendary career.
So with the Museum's re-opening this Sunday, June 12, from noon to 5pm (and opened Wednesdays to Sunday), you could say, as Yogi did, "It's déjà vu all over again."