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Lidle's memory honored by Yankees

Lidle's memory honored by Yankees

NEW YORK -- For a few moments on Opening Day, the loud sounds of a bustling crowd stopped. Footsteps quieted, claps sputtered out, a hush fell over the loud speakers. Yankee players donned black bands around their arms -- a tribute to the late Cory Lidle, who died in a plane crash Oct. 11, 2006.

Eager fans at Yankee Stadium looked toward the mound, where Melanie and 6-year-old Christopher Lidle stood just outside the first-base dugout, ready to throw out the ceremonial first pitches of the 2007 season. Both wore Yankees hats and held baseballs.

Parents Doug and Lisa Lidle, along with Cory's twin brother, Kevin, also huddled close.

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Jason Giambi stood with his arm around Melanie as the Lidles and a packed crowd watched a video of the right-hander's life and career. Melanie looked toward the ground, tapped her hands together and took deep, jerky breaths. She pulled Christopher to her side and -- with ball in hand -- raised a couple of fingers to her face, wiping away tears.

As part of the pregame ceremony, Sgt. First Class Mary Kay Messenger, a West Point soloist, performed the national anthem, while a giant American flag was unfurled in the outfield by 40 West Point cadets. A flyover by two U.S. Navy F-18s, piloted by the Strike Fighter Squadron 34, punctuated the experience with an exclamation point.

After the video ended, Melanie reached around Christopher and squeezed him into her embrace. Cheers followed as Giambi escorted them to the mound.

Set to throw out his pitch, Christopher ran a few steps toward the plate before releasing a perfect throw to Yankees outfielder Melky Cabrera. Melanie followed with a strike to backup catcher Wil Nieves.

"It's special," Kevin Lidle said. "Getting down on the field and seeing that memorial that they had was kind of rough, kind of touching -- a little bit of everything. Made you happy. Made you sad. Got some tears out of me, but that's OK."

Lidle died in his private plane alongside flight instructor Tyler Stanger when the aircraft crashed into an apartment building on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

Yankees right fielder Bobby Abreu knew Lidle better than most Yankees. They spent the whole 2006 season together, half with the Phillies and half in the Bronx after a midseason trade. The two were friends.

But four days after the Yankees' season ended, Abreu heard the news: He wouldn't be chumming around with Lidle anymore, wouldn't be bluffing him in a game of poker and wouldn't be hearing of his flying escapades.

"It hit me very hard," Abreu said. "[The] last time I saw him, I said, 'All right, buddy, we'll see you next year.'"

Lidle died an active member on the Yankees' 40-man roster, his last start being against the Tigers in the American League Division Series. Most of his family didn't see his last start because they expected the Yankees to go deep into the playoffs.

"They said, 'We'll see them in the [AL Championship Series],' and that never happened," general manager Brian Cashman said.

Cashman remembers spotting Lidle regularly in the corner of the clubhouse last season. He would be reclining alongside ex-Yankees Sal Fasano and Craig Wilson, duking it out in "a little chess club." That was Lidle -- he enjoyed life and lived on his own terms, as Yankees center fielder Johnny Damon recalled.

Though Lidle didn't produce stellar numbers while with the Yankees -- he went 4-3 with a 5.16 ERA -- Cashman remembers two of the right-hander's crucial victories: one vs. the Blue Jays, the other against the Red Sox.

Both games were in August, and Lidle recorded two victories over 12 1/3 innings while allowing just one earned run. He struck out a combined 10 batters during those contests.

Yankees first baseman Doug Mientkiewicz held a decent line against Lidle, batting .294 in 17 at-bats with a homer, but he struck out five times in those plate appearances. Mientkiewicz never liked entering the batters box against Lidle.

"I hated it," he said. "Nasty split. Good sinker. It wasn't a day at the park. He had really, really good stuff."

Shortstop Derek Jeter never hit well against Lidle, either, recording five hits in 23 at-bats for a .217 average. The Yankees' captain remembers Lidle as a savvy pitcher who outsmarted batters with less-than-overpowering stuff, not to mention a quiet guy with a personality -- one taken away from him too soon.

"You're around your teammates pretty much more than you're around your family," Jeter said. "[The plane crash] was a terrible tragedy, something that will never be forgotten."

News of Lidle's death had Yankees manager Joe Torre musing about life and its fragile state of being. He said that the heartbreaking event should make everyone appreciate living.

Catcher Jorge Posada and third baseman Alex Rodriguez shared that same sentiment. Lidle and Posada were locker neighbors, and Posada said he wished he could go back in time and talk with Lidle. Now, the catcher said, he spends more time with his kids.

"When you talk about life and death, it just reminds you that sometimes, things can be pretty trivial," Rodriguez said. "[I'm] certainly going to miss him."

Giambi attended high school with Lidle, and both suited up as members of the 2001 Athletics. Even when they played on separate teams at the big-league level, the two would go out to dinner after their teams had faced each other. They always seemed to talked about the same thing -- who got the better of whom.

"It was fun," Giambi said. "One of your high school buddies, you know? If he got me out that day, he would call and get on me. And I took him deep a few times."

Pitchers Darrell Rasner and Sean Henn remember Lidle for his genuine interest in them as rookies last season. The two said that Lidle mentored them in their pitching and always extended invitations if he was going out to eat. Rasner remembers eating and chatting with him at an ESPN Zone restaurant near the end of the season last year.

"He really took us young guys under his wing," Henn said. "He was the first one who came up and introduced himself when I was up in September. That was kind of my lasting impression of him. He was a class-act guy."

Just before the memorial video started, Bob Sheppard announced over the loud speakers: "Now pitching ... for the Yankees ... No. 30 ... Cory ... Lidle."

The words sent chills through veins -- the last echo of a pitcher, a person, a life.

Caleb Breakey is a contributor to MLB.com. Bryan Hoch contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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