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Mourners Honor Lidle

Family and friends at memorial service fondly recall Yankees pitcher killed in plane crash.

October 18, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

An estimated 1,000 mourners attended the memorial service of New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle on Tuesday in Covina, as friends and family members remembered him as a loving husband, father and friend who "never changed with his increase in salary."

Lidle, 34, an avid pilot and nine-year major league veteran, was killed last week in Manhattan along with his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, 26, of Walnut, when the single-engine plane they were flying crashed into a 42-story luxury high-rise.

Lidle's silver casket was covered by a blanket of flowers and flanked by large photos of him smiling at his introductory Yankees news conference and pitching at Yankee Stadium this year. A Yankees contingent that included Manager Joe Torre, shortstop Derek Jeter, General Manager Brian Cashman and Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson attended the service.

Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, Lidle's high school teammate from nearby West Covina South Hills, and Oakland Athletics pitcher Barry Zito, Lidle's former A's teammate, also were at the public ceremony.

Lidle's immediate survivors are his wife, Melanie, and 6-year-old son, Christopher. He and Stanger were to fly Lidle's small plane home to Southern California from New York.

The service at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park was preceded by a flyover of three single-engine planes like Lidle's, less than five miles from the strip where Stanger taught Lidle to fly at La Verne's Brackett Field. Men wearing sunglasses that weren't required when the service began under clouds wiped away tears.

Art Small, a friend of the Lidle family, said that Lidle's tragic, unexpected ending underscored an important reminder to all.

"Death is certain," Small said. "Death comes to the palace [and] to the small home. Death sometimes is sudden. Don't ever think when you start out a day that you will finish that day."

Lidle's twin brother, Kevin, said the words were appropriate given his brother's attitude.

Kevin Lidle said Melanie Lidle gave him some of Cory's belongings this week. One was a leather jacket that Kevin said he put on as he walked outside his brother's Glendora home. Kevin said he patted the jacket pocket and felt something, so he pulled it out: a small yellow ball with a smiley face on it.

"I took that as Cory saying, 'Everything's OK,' " Kevin Lidle said as he showed the ball. "I know a lot of people are grieving for this family. This [ball] is Cory looking down on us."

Lidle was 82-72 in his major league career. He was traded to the Yankees from the Philadelphia Phillies in July.

Former Yankees pitcher Aaron Small, another former South Hills teammate of Lidle, recalled that the pair first met as 9-year-olds, and played baseball at every opportunity. Small said the close friendship continued as the pair reached the major leagues, and they would go to postgame dinners after their teams played.

"[We] were more than friends, Cory was like a little brother to me," Small said, fighting tears. "We were like family, inseparable. As my son grows up, I can only pray he has a friend like Cory Lidle to grow up and play with."

None of the Yankees or other players in attendance, including Philadelphia Phillies Pat Burrell and Chase Utley, spoke at the service.

Afterward, Jackson said, "The nice thing was the way his family and friends spoke of him. It makes you reflect and appreciate life. He touched a lot of lives."

Federal investigators haven't established what caused the plane crash.

Stanger's public memorial service is at 11 a.m. Saturday at Rose Hills in Whittier. Stanger's survivors include his pregnant wife, Stephanie, and an infant daughter. The Lidle family has asked that donations of money or children's books be made to the Stanger family at Pacific Western Bank, Attn: Marge, 4012 Grand Ave., Suite A, Chino, 91710.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

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