Public memorial held for beloved Padres broadcaster Jerry Coleman

Coleman died at age 89 last month

SAN DIEGO - A 21-gun salute and fighter jet flyby honored Jerry Coleman, a war hero, baseball star and San Diego institution, as the longtime voice of the Padres was memorialized at Petco Park on Saturday.

"He was modest beyond means and caring beyond kind," said Dick Enberg, who now handles play-by-play for the Padres on Fox Sports San Diego.

Coleman's daughter thanked the city of San Diego for listening to her father for the past 42 years.

"Here represented in this space are the three things he cared for most: his country, his game and the people who loved him and he in turn loved," she said.

Coleman, 89, died Jan. 5 from pneumonia and complications from a fall. He was buried Monday at Miramar National Cemetery with full military honors, befitting a hero who put his pro baseball career on hold twice to serve as a military pilot during both World War II and the Korean conflict.

Colleagues, friends and fans of Coleman reflected on his life and shared story after story about how he changed lives by bringing the magic of baseball to fans everywhere.

"He just made me feel warm and welcome," said former Padres broadcaster Dave Campbell. "He checked his ego at the door and gave me a chance to flourish and I'll just always be grateful for that."

Coleman's longtime radio partner Ted Leitner, who first met Coleman in 1970, told anecdotes about his friend to the 4,000 or so mourners in the stands at Petco Park.

"Jerry would teach us you don't correct your partner on the air, you slip them a note. You say it during the commercial and we lived by that," Leitner said.

The stage was near second base, the position Coleman played for the Yankees when he earned the AP Rookie of the Year award in 1949. Former New York Yankees manager Joe Torre said, "He played hard, he wore the uniform nicely, and when I got to meet him, he was just as nice as I hoped he would be."

"You are the best man I have ever known." Leitner told his departed partner. He recalled he had spent 15 years in the booth and on the road with Coleman before he revealed that his Yankee years saw him roommates with Mickey Mantle.

"That's typical of how humble he was," Leitner said.

Leitner said he grew up in New York watching Coleman's Yankee team, and then was with the Padres when Coleman came west to join the broadcast team.

"I was starstruck from day one," Leitner said.

The memorial service included a large number of Marine color guards and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot-San Diego band, which played patriotic songs and hymns. Both the Navy Hymn and Marines Hymn were performed.

The services included flyovers by Marine F-18 flyovers and WWII-era Corsair fighter-bombers. In World War II, Coleman flew 57 combat missions in dive bombers over Guadalcanal and other Pacific Theater battles.

Coleman reached the major leagues in 1949 with the Yankees, was an outstanding star at second base when he was drafted in 1952, and sent to Korea for the Marines. There, he flew 63 close air support missions and added six air medals to the seven he had earned in World War II.

Coleman earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses and three Navy citations before retiring as a lieutenant colonel. He was often referred to by his nickname, "The Colonel."

"His decision, he said, was an easy one … your country is bigger than baseball," said Marine Lt. Gen. John Toolan.

During the memorial, San Francisco Giants third base coach Tim Flannery, a former Padres player, coach and broadcaster, sang a song as a tribute to Coleman.

LINK: Listen to Flannery's tribute to Coleman here

Coleman made a transition to the broadcast booth in 1960, and in 1972, he became lead radio play-by-play announcer for the Padres. He called games every year except 1980, which he spent as the team's manager.

He also called national regular season games for CBS Radio until the 1990s.

In 2005, Coleman received the National Baseball Hall of Fame's prestigious Ford C. Frick Award, given to a broadcaster who has made "major contributions to baseball."

He was inducted into the Padres Hall of Fame in 2001 and the U.S. Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2005.

Coleman's trademark "Oh Doctor!" and "Hang a Star!" calls became signatures of Padres baseball, team officials said.

Though the Padres have gone through many changes over the years, the one constant that remained was Coleman. Fans say he was the true star.

"Just a calming voice telling us what's going on during baseball," said a fan.

After the memorial, several fans laid flags, flowers and pictures at the feet of Coleman's statue. The Padres also unveiled a special patch that the players will wear on their jerseys to honor Coleman.

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