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Fans and neighbors recall baseball great

By JORGE SANCHEZ, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 6, 2002

Photo gallery: A career remembered
Williams, Citrus had tight ties
Passing of famed No. 9 hits county hard
Citrus loses a star that still drew a crowd
As a Marine, Ted Williams was 'revered'

Hubert Mizell
One of a kind

'There goes the greatest hitter'

Williams' proudest moment came in the military

Williams recalled with praise
CITRUS HILLS -- A flag lowered to half staff outside the Ted Williams Museum and Hitters Hall of Fame on Friday marked the passing of the baseball legend who lived a few blocks away.

Inside, the flow of fans started as a trickle and grew throughout the day as news of Mr. Williams' death earlier at Citrus Memorial Hospital spread.

Museum director Sandy Langley said Friday that she had received no instructions from the Williams family as to any special events or local memorial services for Mr. Williams.

"We are saddened as many Americans are," Langley said. "We not only lost a friend today, but also a national hero."

Fans visiting the museum on County Road 486, which houses memorabilia from Mr. Williams' baseball, military and fishing careers, shared their feelings about being there on the day of his death.

A measure of Mr. Williams' greatness on the baseball diamond was that he earned the respect of fans of opposing teams, even those who cheered for the archrival New York Yankees.

"I was a Yankees fan, not a very big Boston fan, but you have to give him all the respect in the world as a ballplayer," said Joe Rohrbacher, 58, of Spring Hill. "I never heard a bad word said about him."

None of the visitors interviewed Friday at the Ted Williams Museum had actually seen Mr. Williams play, but they were awed by the record of his achievements on the wall.

Many marveled at the wall of photos showing Mr. Williams with present-day baseball stars such as Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and retired players such as Hank Aaron. The photos were taken over the years at the annual induction ceremony held for the Hitters Hall of Fame that Mr. Williams started in 1994.

"I think that had he been playing today, he'd be as big a star as any of them," said Peter Benson, 42, a resident of Atlanta who was here visiting family.

"He was one of the greatest players, and you have to give him that," said Ron Sterling, 65, a resident of Dallas visiting the museum.

"I remember him mostly as the manager of the Texas Rangers," Sterling said. "He wasn't a very good manager, but he was a great player."

Mr. Williams, a Citrus Hills resident, was also a favorite of the staff at Andre's of Citrus Hills restaurant.

"He said many times this was his favorite restaurant," said manager Anthony Lambert. "He hadn't been able to dine here in a couple of years, but when he was healthy and came here, it was always a special event."

"He was very kind and courteous and always signed autographs on napkins, baseballs, whatever the people wanted signed," Lambert said.

Lambert said Andre's chefs would prepare Mr. Williams' favorite recipes, usually seafood dishes, and his very favorite dish -- vegetable pasta.

"We're featuring that on the menu tonight as a tribute to Mr. Williams," Lambert said.

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