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Yogi Berra's St. Louis family gathers to celebrate the life of the baseball legend

Mary Delach Leonard|St. Louis Public Radio
People left tokens of sympathy outside Yogi Berra's boyhood home in St. Louis on Wednesday.

The St. Louis family of Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra gathered Wednesday on the porch of his boyhood home on The Hill to mourn the passing of the 90-year-old baseball legend, who died on Tuesday.

“Last night was very sad. We had time to all talk to each other and to cry to each other and just to love and remember him before this craziness started today,’’ said Mary Frances Brown, Berra’s niece.

The “craziness” started at 5 a.m. when a local news crew woke up Brown who lives in the frame house on Elizabeth Avenue where Berra grew up. She graciously fielded requests for interviews all day from reporters who wanted to hear about her uncle, the Hall-of-Famer, who was a catcher for the Yankees and managed both the Yankees and the Mets. Berra won a place in America’s heart with his famous one-liners, known as Yogi-isms.

Brown’s favorite Yogi-ism -- at least for this day -- was one told to her by her aunt: “So, Aunt Carmen says to Uncle Yogi, ‘Yogi, we can’t make everyone’s funeral. He goes, ‘But Carmen if I don’t make it to theirs, they’re not going to come to mine.' ”

She added, with tears in her eyes, “So I hope all his spirits whose funerals he went to are with him today.”

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
Mary Frances Brown, niece of baseball legend Yogi Berra.

All day, people stopped by to pay their respects. They brought tokens of sympathy: flowers, baseballs, a pumpkin with Berra’s No. 8 and even a six-pack, or two. Restaurants on The Hill sent food.

“It’s been very, very embracing,’’ said Brown, who wore a Yankees T-shirt autographed by her uncle. “The Hill is just an amazing little town to live in.’’

Brown says that at least once or twice a week, baseball fans stop by her home. Elizabeth Avenue has a place in baseball history: Another Major Leaguer -- catcher Joe Garagiola -- grew up in the house across the street, and the late Cardinals announcer Jack Buck used to live down the block.

“Yogi grew up in this house. I grew up in this house,’’ Brown said. “Grandma and Grandpa came over from Italy, as immigrants. And they had this house built. My grandma had five kids: my mom and Uncle Yogi and three other sons and then my mom ended up with the house. Being the only girl she took care of Grandma and Grandpa. She got the house when they passed. I took care of my mother and father until they passed. And now I live here. The house will never get out of this family.’’

Joan Calvin, another Berra niece, said that it was fun growing up in the house where Yogi grew up.

“Everybody just loves him,’’ Calvin said. “He was a great guy.”

The family plans to hold a memorial service for Berra at a future date at St. Ambrose Catholic Church on The Hill.

Credit Mary Delach Leonard | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis members of Yogi Berra's family gather on the front porch of his boyhood home. From left, great-niece Casie Lutker, niece Joan Calvin, niece Barbara Berra and great-niece Danielle Brown.

Want to know more?

For more on the career of Yogi Berra:

* "Baseball Legend Yogi Berra Dies at 90," Sept. 23, 2015, National Public Radio.

* "An Incubator of Baseball Talent,'' October 2011, The New York Times.

Mary Delach Leonard is a veteran journalist who joined the St. Louis Beacon staff in April 2008 after a 17-year career at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, where she was a reporter and an editor in the features section. Her work has been cited for awards by the Missouri Associated Press Managing Editors, the Missouri Press Association and the Illinois Press Association. In 2010, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis honored her with a Spirit of Justice Award in recognition of her work on the housing crisis. Leonard began her newspaper career at the Belleville News-Democrat after earning a degree in mass communications from Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, where she now serves as an adjunct faculty member. She is partial to pomeranians and Cardinals.