By Alex Ginsberg
City Councilman Dennis Gallagher (R-Middle Village) joined friends, relatives and colleagues of fallen Firefighter Michael Weinberg Sunday as 72nd Street at the corner of Eliot Avenue was renamed in his honor.
Weinberg, who had played minor league baseball before becoming a firefighter, died in the collapse of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
“It is most fitting and proper that 72nd Street bears the name of Firefighter Michael Weinberg, right across the street from where he played Little League baseball,” Gallagher told the assembled crowd of about 250. Many of them clutched palm leaves used in the Catholic Church to commemorate Palm Sunday.
Fire engines and trucks ringed the intersection at the Maspeth-Middle Village border, choking traffic on Eliot Avenue, and more than 100 uniformed members of the Fire Department were on hand to honor their comrade.
State Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) said he hoped the renamed street would remind future generations of Weinberg's character and sacrifice.
“People are going to look at that street sign and know that they are treading where an outstanding human being once walked,” he said.
Weinberg was on vacation on Sept. 11, 2001, but he joined his colleagues at Engine Co. 1 and Ladder Co. 24 in Manhattan when they rushed to the World Trade Center to fight the raging fires in the towers.
Weinberg's sister, Patricia Gambino, who worked in one of the buildings, escaped, but Weinberg was killed when the towers collapsed. He was 34 at the time.
Lt. James Halaby, who worked with Weinberg, remembered his friend as an excellent athlete – a quality he imagined Weinberg had taken with him to the next life.
“He's probably having a conversation with Babe Ruth about hitting and Roberto Clemente about throwing,” he said, drawing soft chuckles from the crowd.
Gambino did not speak at the event, but she shared the poem “I'm free ” by Linda Jo Jackson that included the line “Don't grieve for me, for now I'm free.”
Weinberg was a talented athlete who attended St. John's University on a baseball scholarship and played Minor League ball in the Detroit Tigers farm system. He was also a lifeguard, personal trainer and golfer.
Halaby described his friend as “the strong, silent type,” and added that Weinberg would never have asked for the kind of attention he was getting Sunday.
“Michael would have been embarrassed about it,” he said. “But too bad, Mike. This makes us happy.”
Reach reporter Alex Ginsberg by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 157.