JERSEY CITY, New Jersey (WABC) -- A former Major League Baseball pitcher who then became a Port Authority police officer was killed in a wrong-way crash near the Holland Tunnel while on his way to serve in the 9/11 ceremony at the World Trade Center Sunday.
Tributes are pouring in for 37-year-old Anthony Varvaro, who grew up in Westerleigh on Staten Island and played six seasons of professional baseball after a standout collegiate career at St. John's.
After stints with the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox, Varvaro retired in 2016 and joined the Port Authority Police Department.
The crash happened at approximately 4:25 a.m. on the New Jersey Turnpike Hudson Bay Extension East at milepost 6.7, in Jersey City, where police say 30-year-old Henry Plazas, of Bridgewater, was traveling west in the eastbound lanes when he struck Varvano's Nissan Maxima head on.
Both drivers were killed.
St. John's head baseball coach Mike Hampton said he was "at a loss for words" over Varvaro's death.
"Not only was he everything you could want out of a ball player, he was everything you could want in a person," said Hampton, who was an assistant coach at St. John's during all three of Varvaro's seasons there. "My heart goes out to his family, friends, teammates and fellow officers."
Port Authority officials said in a statement that Varvaro "represented the very best of this agency, and will be remembered for his courage and commitment to service."
"On this solemn occasion as the Port Authority mourns the loss of 84 employees in the attacks on the World Trade Center - including 37 members of the Port Authority Police Department - our grief only deepens today with the passing of Officer Varvaro," said the statement by Port Authority Chairman Kevin O'Toole and Executive Director Rick Cotton.
Varvaro was drafted by Seattle in the 12th round in 2005, and he played for the Mariners in 2010 and the Braves from 2011 to 2014.
"We are deeply saddened on the passing of former Braves pitcher Anthony Varvaro," the Braves said in a statement. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and colleagues."
He was traded to the Red Sox in late 2014 and pitched 11 innings for Boston early in the 2015 season. In May 2015, the Chicago Cubs claimed him off waivers from Boston, but returned him to the Red Sox after testing showed he had a elbow injury in his right pitching arm, which resulted in season-ending surgery.
For his major league career, he pitched 183 innings in 166 games, compiling a 3.23 earned run average, 150 strikeouts and one save.
In 2016, he appeared in 18 games for Boston's top minor league affiliate before retiring in June and beginning his police training.
Varvaro, who studied criminal justice at St. John's and graduated in 2005, told the student newspaper, The Torch, in December 2016 that he inquired about police jobs at the Port Authority while pitching in the majors.
"I figured that I had a pretty successful career in baseball," he told the newspaper. "I had played a number of seasons, and I was fine moving on to the next step of my life."
Port Authority officials said Varvaro became a police officer in December 2016 and was assigned to patrol for nearly five years before transferring to the Port Authority Police Academy to become an instructor.
He also worked with Little Leaguers.
"We are sad to announce the passing of our President, Friend, Coach, Husband, and Father Anthony Varvaro," Sailor's Snug Harbor Little League said. "The Snug Harbor LL community is deeply saddened by the loss of Anthony. Not only was Anthony the President he was a tremendous person. Please keep his family in your thoughts and prayers."
He leaves behind a wife and four children.
Wakes will be held for Varvaro from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Matthew Funeral Home on Victory Boulevard in Staten Island.
A funeral Mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church on Austin Place, with internment to follow at St Peter's Cemetery on Tyler Avenue.
(The Associated Press contributed to this report)
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