The New York Yankees are paying tribute to Yogi Berra tonight and fond memories were shared a bit closer to home today as Doug Gonring remembered the Berra from 1986 when he was in spring training with the Houston Astros.
“I was about 23 years old and I lived in Mrs. Gloria Wright’s basement my second year in pro ball and she had a little fan club that called me ‘Little Yogi,’” said Gonring.
At spring training Berra came into the clubhouse and that’s where Gonring caught ‘what for.”
“‘Where is this Little Yogi,’” said Gonring doing a gruff Berra impersonation. “I stood up and raised my hand and he looked at me and said, ‘You’re too damn big to be a Little Yogi’ and he turned and walked out. I knew he liked me from then on.”
Gonring heard the news of Berra’s death on the radio Tuesday. “I thought about the Hummel statue my grandma got me of Yogi,” he said. “I never got his autograph or my picture taken with him. We didn’t have ‘selfies’ back then – somebody would have had to have taken your picture.”
An “icon of the game” is how Gonring describes Berra. “None of the kids know about his service in World War II; it’s a shame,” Gonring said.
“Everybody loved Yogi. It wasn’t because of his coaching ability it was just knowing he did things everybody dreamed about doing,” he said.
Humble and a “man who held a presence” is how Gonring described him. “Yogi was always the darling of baseball – short and pudgy. He was a three time MVP and won 10 World Series; he was a pretty special man.”
Gonring recalled walking down to the ballpark. “I saw him and called him Mr. Berra and he stopped me in my steps and said, ‘I don’t call you Player Gonring, my name is Yogi and you call me Yogi.’ Here I am getting my ass chewed out by a Hall of Famer,” said Gonring.
“Baseball will miss him,” said Gonring. “I’m going to miss him. To be able to say I walked on the same field as Yogi – that’s my little claim to fame.”
Yogi Berra was 90.