By Dylan Butler
While a doubleheader against Rutgers Saturday is critical for the St. John’s baseball team’s hopes of earning a berth to the Big East tournament, before the game, what the team is doing is even more important.
The Red Storm will honor former player Mike Weinberg, a Maspeth native who was one of hundreds of New York City firefighters killed at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Mike Weinberg Memorial Day ceremonies will start at 11:30 a.m. Members of Weinberg’s firehouse from Engine 1, Ladder 24 in Midtown Manhattan, as well as several former Red Storm teammates are scheduled to attend.
St. John’s baseball coach Ed Blankmeyer wil make a presentation to the Weinberg family and in lieu of admission charges, fans attending the games are asked by the university to make a donation to the St. John’s University September 11 Victim’s Fund, which provides scholarships for victims’ children and spouses. All proceeds from the game will go towards the fund.
“I knew Mike, he came back during one of the alumni days,” said Blankmeyer, who coached against Weinberg as an assistant at Seton Hall. “To me it’s an honor to have an opportunity to pay tribute to a young man like Mike Weinberg. He’s a hero and a class kid. We’re lucky to have him in our program.”
The 34-year-old Weinberg, who was a catcher at Grover Cleveland High School, played at St. John’s from 1986-89. His crowning moment came in 1988 when he helped lead the Redmen to the 1988 Big East tournament championship and the NCAA tournament by hitting two home runs, including the game-winner, against Villanova in the semifinals. He was named the tourmament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Weinberg, who was a career .256 hitter at St. John’s with six home runs and 59 RBIs, was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and played two years in their minor league system at Niagara Falls of the New York-Penn League and Fayetteville of the South Atlantic League the following season before being released midway through the 1991 season.
Following his brief professional baeball career, Weinberg joined the New York City Fire Department and also became quite a golfer. On the morning of Sept. 11, he was on vacation and awaiting a 9:08 a.m. tee time at Forest Park Golf Course when he heard reports of a plane crashing into the World Trade Center.
Weinberg, a handsome and well-built man who modeled and was in the fire department’s calandar, quickly jumped in his sports utility vehicle and raced towards Manhattan knowing that his sister, Trish Gambino, worked for Morgan Stanley on the 72nd floor of Two World Trade Center.
Gambino managed to get out by walking down the stairs, escaping uninjured. She watched the first tower collapse from the Brooklyn Bridge.
Weinberg ditched his SUV alongside the Long Island Expressway in Long Island City and hitched a ride in an Emergency Serivices vehicle into Manhattan.
After stopping at the firehouse and picking up Capt. Daniel Brethel and Fire Department Chaplin, Rev. Mychal Judge, the three raced to the Trade Center in Judge’s station wagon.
As the towers collapsed, Brethel and Weinberg reportedly tried to take cover under a fire truck, where they were killed instantly by falling debris.
His was one of the first bodies found.
“The four years he played baseball at St. John’s were the happiest days of his life,” said Weinberg’s father, Morton Weinberg. “He wanted to be a professional baseball player and then later he wanted to be a professional golfer. He wanted to be on the senior tour one day. He was a great athlete.”
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.