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MANTLE HOMERED IN HIS LAST AT-BAT

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Mickey Mantle will be remembered as a clutch player on the baseball field and a man who hit a homer in life's last at-bat.

That was the underlying theme Tuesday in a public funeral for the New York Yankees Hall of Famer.Mantle was praised for his great hitting prowess and how he performed as a human in his last moments alive.

"It occurs to me as we're all sitting here thinking of Mickey, he's probably somewhere getting an earful from Casey Stengel, and no doubt quite confused by now," NBC broadcaster Bob Costas said in a warm and moving eulogy that frequently had laughter echoing off the walls of Lovers Lane United Methodist Church.

Mantle was "the most compelling baseball hero of our lifetime," Costas told the star-studded crowd. The gathering included acting commissioner Bud Selig, the Hall of Famer's former Yankees teammates, the governors of three states and ordinary fans who crowded into the church just to say goodbye.

"And he was our symbol of baseball at a time when the game meant something to us that perhaps it no longer does," Costas said.

Those at the funeral came to celebrate Mickey Mantle's heroism, these old Yankees, fans and family. And not just the golden moments from his Hall of Fame career, but his brave, final inning.

About 1,200 people, some sitting on window sills, jammed the church for the nationally televised service for Mantle, who died Sunday of liver cancer at age 63.

The light mahogany casket, covered in white roses, sat in front of several other arrangements of flowers, including a 7-foot-tall floral representation of Mantle's No. 7 with the tribute: "Mickey Mantle, the greatest of them all."

Costas spoke of how a generation idolized Mantle not just for his tape-measure home runs and his speed, but also of his vulnerability that touched fans' hearts.

"We knew there was something poignant about Mickey Mantle long before we knew what poignant meant," he said. "We didn't just root for him, we felt for him.

"He was our guy. When he was hot, we felt great. When he slumped or got hurt, we sagged a bit too. We tried to crease our caps like him; kneel in an imaginary on-deck circle like him; run like him heads down, elbows up," he said.

But Costas also spoke of Mantle's courage and honesty, which showed itself last year as he acknowledged decades of alcoholism left his liver so damaged that he required a transplant on June 8.

At the end of his life, Mantle suffered pain that "wracked his body and his soul," Costas said.

But then, he added, "Mickey Mantle rallied."

Mantle warned children earlier this summer not to follow his example, and Costas said the Yankee slugger understood the difference between a role model and a hero.

Country artist Roy Clark then sang a moving rendition of "Yesterday When I Was Young" - a song that Mantle himself loved and had requested be sung at his funeral.

Mantle's wife, Merlyn, held up well until Clark sang. Sobbing softly, she was supported by her three sons, Mickey Jr., David and Danny.

Former Yankee teammate Bobby Richardson gave the sermon, saying that Mantle died in peace because he had found the Lord.

Pallbearers included former Yankee teammates Yogi Berra, Johnny Blanchard, Bill "Moose" Skowron, Whitey Ford and Bobby Murcer. After the service, they were whisked away in a limousine to the Sparkman-Hillcrest funeral home where Mantle was placed in a crypt alongside son, Billy, in private a ceremony.

Other guests at the church were Yankees' boss George Steinbrenner, Reggie Jackson, comedian Billy Crystal and the governors of New York, Georgia and Texas.