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AARON, OTHERS PAY TRIBUTE TO THE `MICK'

Friends and fans of baseball Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle recalled the former New York Yankees slugger as a fun-loving neighbor and compassionate friend during a memorial service in the small Georgia town he sometimes called home.

About 300 people, including Gov. Zell Miller, home run king Hank Aaron and Mantle's agent, Greer Johnson, gathered Sunday at the First United Methodist Church where Mantle sometimes attended services. Those on hand heard tales of his fondness for practical jokes.Mantle died Aug. 13 of liver cancer, shortly after he received a liver transplant.

"When he entered the hospital, our first reaction was that this was an awfully early time for him to begin preparing for April Fool's Day," said John Crouse, who lives at the Harbor Club golf resort, where Mantle had a villa.

"The dignity of his passing was every bit as majestic as one of those long, towering home runs he used to hit," Aaron said. "At no time was his courage more visibly demonstrated than in his last few weeks. Have you ever seen anyone approach death with so much class?"

The 1957 and 1958 World Series between the then-Milwaukee Braves and the Yankees were billed as personal duels between him and Mantle, Aaron remembered. But Mantle, the Yankees center fielder, hurt his shoulder in the third game of the 1957 Series.

"So often, a moment of great promise was spoiled by injury," Aaron said.