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St. John’s honors firefighter alum lost on 9/11

St. John’s University honored one of its own Saturday, when the school paid tribute to Mike Weinberg, a former SJU baseball player and New York City fireman who was killed in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

The rain which forced the ceremony inside did not dampen the spirits of the more than 200 people, including 75 firefighters who remembered the 34-year-old Maspeth native and outfielder as a caring, funny and giving man.

“Not a day goes by that I have not thought about Michael,” said Lt. Jim Hallaby, who was in Weinberg’s house Engine 1, Ladder 24 in Lower Manhattan. “When people find out I am a fireman, many say ‘you must have lost some good friends on 9/11.’ I can’t help but to talk about Mike and tell people how nice he was.”

Everybody he talks to about Weinberg knows him, Hallaby said. Maybe it was from the papers or the television, he said, but “I guess it was his good looks.”

Hallaby described Weinberg as a nice guy who would never say a bad word about anybody. He remembers his laugh, his funny stories, his funny looks and his dry sense of humor. He said when you arrived at the house and saw that Weinberg was on duty, you knew you would laugh throughout the tour.

On Sept. 11, Weinberg was on vacation and awaiting his 9:08 a.m. tee time at the Forest Park Golf Course, when he heard the call. The commitment to his job and love of his sister, Patricia Gambino, who worked at the Towers, drove him to abandon his golf game and head toward the burning buildings.

Ditching his car on the side of the road, Weinberg met up with the Rev. Mychal Judge, the Fire Department chaplain, and Capt. Daniel Brethel at his house and headed toward the World Trade Center. The three were killed as they sought cover under a truck when the first tower collapsed. His sister had escaped and was standing on the Brooklyn Bridge when the tower fell.

Weinberg played outfield for the Johnnies from 1986 to 1989 and helped to lead the team to the 1988 Big East Championship and the ultimate goal, a birth in the NCAA Tournament. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Big East Championship after hitting two home runs, including the semifinal game-winner against Villanova.

A .256 career hitter, with six home runs and 59 RBIs, Weinberg was drafted by the Detroit Tigers and played two years in its farm system. He joined the FDNY in 1991 after he was released by the Tigers.

The university presented Weinberg’s family with a framed baseball team jersey sporting his name and number 22.

“Mike knew that the reservoirs needed water, so I think he called for some rain,” said Morty Weinberg, Mike’s father. “I’d like to thank you all for coming out to pay tribute to our son. It’s been a very difficult time for our family, but seeing all of you here shows the love that all of you had for and still have for Michael.”

Rick Cole, assistant athletic director of external affairs at St. John’s, said Weinberg had a quiet confidence at the plate and in the outfield as he “tracked down fly balls.” But everybody who knew him could understand why he joined the Bravest, Cole said.

“No greater love exists than the one that leads a man to lay down his life for another,” Hallaby read from a letter somebody put up on a Web site about Weinberg. “America is a better place because of your unselfish dedication to fellow citizens. You embody the spirit of America and love. May you rest in peace. America will never forget your sacrifice.”

Reach reporter Adam Kramer by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 157.

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