Family, friends celebrate Yogi at NJ museum

Family, friends celebrate Yogi at NJ museum

LITTLE FALLS, N.J. -- Yogi Berra was as beloved in Montclair, N.J., as he was in the Bronx. Berra and his wife, Carmen Berra, moved their family to the hilly suburb in 1959, eight World Series titles and three Most Valuable Player Awards already under his belt. Berra spent nearly the next six decades there, raising his family, mentoring kids at summer camp and greeting trick-or-treaters at the door on Halloween.

"My father was home for every Halloween, and he gave out the candy," said Larry Berra, one of Yogi's three sons. "People were stunned. What player today would you think does that?"

Such memories were in abundance Sunday at the Montclair University museum that bears Yogi Berra's name and is dedicated to remembering the life of one of baseball's immortal figures. Through the museum's hundreds of artifacts --there's his first glove, there's the newspaper he delivered as a boy in St. Louis -- and the stories told by those he touched, Yogi's presence is everywhere. So on Sunday, family, friends and fans from as far as Tennessee descended on the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair to commemorate the Hall of Famer's life just a little more than a year after his death at age 90 on Sept. 22, 2015.

"Yogi and Carmen were such a vibrant part of this area. There wasn't a cause they didn't help," museum director Dave Kaplan said. "For the past year, we were more motivated than ever to keep his spirit alive."

Built in 1998, the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center features exhibits and mementos from every corner of Berra's life, from his early years in St. Louis' "The Hill" neighborhood, where he was born to Italian immigrants in 1925; to his service in the Navy, including on D-Day in 1944; to his 18 All-Star appearances; to his 13 World Series titles as a player and coach; to his Hall of Fame induction in 1972 and beyond.

The museum is sprinkled with large cutouts of his famous Yogi-isms, which spark smiles throughout the museum. There are also photos of Berra with Babe Ruth, Derek Jeter and Berra's grandchildren. 

"Bottom line is, sports gave Yogi this wonderful life," Kaplan said. "He was always very appreciate of that. He always wanted to give back."

Berra became involved in the Montclair community at the suggestion of Carmen. The Berras assisted local branches of the Salvation Army, the YMCA, March of Dimes, and, of course, local baseball camps. The 5,000-seat stadium next to the museum, which is home the Montclair State University baseball team and the independent New Jersey Jackals, is also named after Yogi. He coached young players from underserved areas nearby.

In that spirit, the Montclair State baseball team hosted a kids baseball clinic on the field at Yogi Berra Stadium on Sunday, while festivities took place in the museum overlooking the right-field line.

"We were community-minded people," Larry Berra said.

Guests on Sunday were given stickers with the pinstriped number "8," replicating the commemorative patches the Yankees wore to honor Berra last season.

Berra's family believed celebrating his life this way is what Berra would have wanted.

After all, on Halloween, as his son said: "He'd get mad if you didn't have a costume on."

Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.