The Areizagas are a military family, with members serving in or veterans of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. But on Friday, as they gathered at the San Joaquin Valley National Cemetery for the funeral of Alvin Areizaga, they shared one uniform: the blue and white pinstripes of the New York Yankees.
Areizaga, 61 and an Air Force veteran, died unexpectedly Oct. 2 — the day before the Yankees beat the Minnesota Twins in a wild-card game to advance to the playoffs. He was a resident of Merced, but grew up in the Bronx, seven blocks from Yankee Stadium.
“After school, we would race each other down the Grand Concourse to the stadium,” said his brother, Charles. They couldn’t afford tickets, but “We’d go from one gate to the other and give them a sad face. Eventually, somebody would relent and we’d get in there and find a seat.”
From those seats, the Areizaga boys would watch the likes of Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Elston Howard.
The Yankees, Charles Areizaga said, “were the one thing we did agree on.”
So it seemed only fitting that when it came time to hold services for Alvin Areizaga, family members and friends attend in the gear of his beloved Bronx Bombers. The military ceremony was followed by a reception in Merced, that in turn was followed by, fittingly, the Yankees-Astros ALCS game Friday evening.
During the eulogy, Charles Areizaga and his sister, Janet Alvarez, remembered Alvin as a big guy with a big heart and a bigger laugh, who could make anyone smile.
Growing up, Alvarez said, she lamented the lack of a sister. “Alvin filled in,” she said. “I’d bring out my Barbies and he’d bring out his GI Joes. Pretty soon, his GI Joe would be hitting on my Barbie, and I would threaten to tell Mom.”
“He was a loving son, brother, father and husband,” Charles Areizaga said. “And he was a Yankees fan. Let’s go, Yankees.”
The last game the brothers took in together was in July, 2009 in Anaheim. Charles drove up from his San Diego home and Alvin came down from Merced.
The Yankees won the game and, more importantly, went on to take the World Series that year.
“Now I am saying goodbye to my brother again, and the Yankees are playing in the playoffs again,” he said. “I hope that’s not just a coincidence.
“I’m hoping the Yankees win and go on to the World Series. That would be his last gift.”