NEW YORK (AP) — Bill Spahr tapped the bronze Yogi Berra plaque in Monument Park with his hand, nodded his head in tribute and recalled the day he once talked to the Yankees great for 15 minutes at an airport.
"It was easily the greatest experience I've ever had," Spahr said.
From the makeshift memorial outside the main gate at Yankee Stadium to the extended moment of silence before New York hosted the Chicago White Sox, it was a time to remember the beloved Berra with smiles and tears Thursday night.
"We all looked up to Yogi," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "The champion he was. A ring for every finger. I think we'd all like to have that."
White Sox manager Robin Ventura echoed the sentiment, treasuring the days when he played for the Yankees and Berra would wander into the clubhouse.
"When he came in, there wasn't a guy who didn't want to talk to him," Ventura said.
Berra died Tuesday at 90. In 2009, the Hall of Famer threw out the ceremonial first ball before the first regular-season game at the new Yankee Stadium.
This pregame ceremony lasted 10 minutes, fitting for someone who played on a record 10 World Series champions.
As both teams lined up outside their dugouts, Girardi put a wreath of blue and white flowers in the shape of Berra's No. 8 in the catcher's box. A Navy bugler played "Taps" in a salute to Berra's service aboard a Navy gunboat during the D-Day invasion.
The Yankees wore No. 8 on their left sleeves, and Berra shirts dotted the crowd. About four hours before game, stadium workers prepared new Berra jerseys for sale — the concession stands also featured Berra bobbleheads brought in for the game.
Current and former Yankees were featured in Yogi remembrances on the video board in the early innings, some of them citing his classic malapropisms. There was a trivia question on the board, too, and the answer, no surprise, was Berra.
Out in Monument Park, flowers honored Berra. His plaque notes his three AL MVP awards and famous "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" saying and praises him as "a legendary Yankee."
Fans posed for pictures with the plaque and told stories about Berra. Spahr, 58 and a lifelong Yankees fan, still plays softball with Berra's son, Larry.
"Yogi was the best," Spahr said.
Flowers arranged in the figure of an 8 were outside the stadium in a fan memorial, along with candles, drawings and a picture of Berra with Derek Jeter. A young girl asked her dad what made Berra so special.
"He had some of the most famous quotes in the world," he told his daughter, "and he won 10 championships."
Earlier in the day, at a news conference at the Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center on the campus of Montclair State University in Little Falls, New Jersey, sons Dale, Tim and Larry and granddaughter Lindsay spoke about him.
"He was such a normal, regular guy to the people he met," Dale Berra said. "I think because he grew up with immigrant parents during the Depression and had to go to work when he was in eighth grade, I think that made him humble."
Dale Berra played part of two seasons with the Yankees when Yogi managed the team.
"We had a meeting the first day, and I had a question to ask him," Dale Berra said. "I called him 'Skip.' Well, almost before I could get the word out of my mouth, Ron Guidry said to me, 'He's not Skip. He's your Dad.' From that point on, our relationship on the team was father and son, but I called him Dad."
Larry Berra said he moved back in with his parents in the family home in Montclair after separating from his wife.
"He would be like, 'So, are we going to watch 'Seinfeld' tonight?'" Berra's eldest son recalled. "I ended up living there for 14 years. I remember telling my mother that I had to move out. She said, 'Your father will be devastated. He'd have no one to watch television with.' I said, 'Mom, I'm 56 years old.' It was really something."
Tim Berra was a standout wide receiver at the University of Massachusetts and had a brief stint in the NFL with the Baltimore Colts. He says he'll always remember the way his father treated others.
"People felt comfortable with him, laughed with him," Tim Berra said. "Dad had a great way of relating to everyone. Sure, he was this iconic great baseball player, but to me, he was Dad. He was a buddy of mine. I wanted to be like him, a sensitive guy with an air of confidence and friendliness."
Lindsay Berra noted that Tuesday was Carmen Berra's birthday. Yogi Berra's wife died last year after a stroke.
"Grandpa wanted to spend her birthday with her," Lindsay Berra said.
Funeral arrangements for Berra are private. The Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center, however, is planning a public memorial Oct. 1.
AP freelance writer Jim Hague in Little Falls, New Jersey, contributed to this report.