Lidle mourned at memorial service
Veteran pitcher remembered for the things he loved to do
COVINA, Calif. -- It's going to be fine and Kevin Lidle has the memento to prove it.
Cory Lidle's twin brother held up a small smiley face ball and informed the several hundred gathered at the memorial service at Forest Lawn of Covina on Tuesday how a seemingly insignificant toy could be so meaningful at one of the toughest moments.
"This is Cory. He's looking down on us and he is OK," Kevin Lidle said as he stood at the lectern on the partly cloudy and cool morning.
Cory Lidle was killed when the small plane he may have been piloting crashed into a New York City high rise last Wednesday. The cause of the accident that also took the life of flight instructor Tyler Stanger is still under investigation and it also remains unclear which man was at the controls, but Kevin Lidle couldn't be more certain that if his brother had been standing there with him he would have been smiling.
"I'm going to miss him tremendously," Lidle said as he related the story of reaching into the pocket of his brother's leather jacket given to him by Melanie, Cory's widow, and finding the ball. "I'm not ready yet [for the grief] but I'm waiting for that day. I'm going with the flow and I'll see what happens."
The service was held in front of the Mausoleum of Christian Heritage with family members flanking one side of the casket and friends and guests on the other. Three times during the memorial, a trio of private planes passed overhead.
Mourners included manager Joe Torre, general manager Brian Cashman, Jason Giambi and shortstop Derek Jeter of the Yankees and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson. Former Phillies teammates Randy Wolf and Mike Lieberthal, who was a childhood friend, were also in attendance.
"What we found out today is the friendships he forged early and were still there," Torre said. "That speaks a lot about Cory."
Melanie Lidle spoke briefly at the reception at the Faith Community Church following the memorial and thanked her sister, Brandie Peters, her family, friends, the Yankees and Major League Baseball.
"Lee Jett from MLB made everything as smooth as possible," said Jordan Feagan, Cory Lidle's longtime friend and agent. "The Yankees showed why they're first-class and a world-class organization."
Also speaking on behalf of Lidle was Art Small and son Aaron Small, who was also a longtime friend and Major League pitcher. While the Smalls delivered opening and closing remarks, childhood friends Paul Felberg and Warren Reid, and Peters also spoke.
"It was like we never missed a beat," said Small, who would catch up with Lidle during Spring Training or occasionally on the road.
Small was friends with both of the Lidle twins, and their ball-playing days carried through Little League and eventually into the pros. Cory Lidle played with the Mets, Devil Rays, A's, Blue Jays, Reds and Phillies before joining the Yankees this past July.
Slightly less accomplished but no less traveled, Small has played for six teams over 10 seasons but the relationship he forged with Lidle and the sudden shock that it is now just a memory reinforced how special it was.
"As my son grows up I only pray that he will have a friend like Cory Lidle to grow up with," Small said.
Lidle was born March 22, 1972, and starred at South Hills High School but was not drafted and played for three different Minor League organizations, including a stint in an independent league, before hooking up with the Mets in 1997.
Though he had a fastball that barely topped 90 mph, Lidle worked an assortment of pitches to compile an 82-72 mark and a 4.57 ERA in a career that spanned 10 seasons.
As the elder Small recalled, though, Lidle's fastball had plenty of heat. Small was watching Cory Lidle work out one day, throwing to his brother Kevin, and decided to move from behind a chain-link fence and around to another side for a better view. But as Small stood up and his head cleared the six-foot barrier, he was beaned by one of Lidle's pitches.
"I don't know how long I wore those tread marks," Small said.
Lidle was 4-3 this season with the Phillies before being traded along with Bobby Abreu to the Yankees on July 30 in exchange for a quartet of Minor Leaguers. Lidle's presence was felt, though, at his final stop as a pro ballplayer.
"He is one of those guys that I wish I could have played longer with. He was always positive," Jeter said. "He is a member of the Yankees family; he is a member of the Yankees organization."
Giambi, who grew up with Lidle and played with him in high school as well as the A's and Yankees, was just a few blocks away and waiting for a phone call from Lidle at the time of the accident.
"He had a zest for life and it was exciting to be around him," Giambi said. "He will always be a part of the family."
Lidle's penchant for food landed him the nickname "Snacks" and parked appropriately in the lot at the reception Tuesday was a large In 'N Out truck, serving lunch. The idea belonged to Brandie Peters, which Feagan said was more than on the money.
"He loved In 'N Out. He would have eaten it every day," Faegan said, adding that Lidle used to bug him to get an endorsement from the burger chain. "He never got past just meat and cheese."
Lidle died as he lived. His previous hobby was poker, so strong that he formed an offseason charity poker event to benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation. That enthusiasm turned to flying, and Lidle was preparing to make a cross-county trek to his California home after the Yankees were eliminated from the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers.
On the day of the crash, Lidle and Stanger had taken off from Teterboro Airport in New Jersey at about 2:30 p.m. ET in the Cirrus SR20 that Lidle owned. They crashed minutes later into the 30th floor of a Manhattan condominium on East 72nd Street after making a U-turn over the East River, according to several reports.
Those remain details that will give family and friends closure but will not help define the man they knew.
"It is tragic, but at the same time he was doing something that he loved to do," Wolf said.
The Lidle family has requested that donations be made to the Stanger family in lieu of flowers.
Mike Scarr is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.