Funeral held for MLB pitcher-turned-Port Authority cop killed in wrong-way crash

ByEyewitness News via WABC logo
Friday, September 16, 2022
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Family, friends and brothers and sisters in blue came together to bid a final farewell to ex-MLB pitcher-turned-Port Authority cop Anthony Varvaro. Lauren Glassberg has the story.

TOMPKINSVILLE, Staten Island (WABC) -- Family, friends and brothers and sisters in blue came together Thursday to bid a final farewell to a former MLB pitcher-turned-Port Authority police officer who was killed in a wrong-way crash while driving to the 9/11 memorial on September 11.

Funeral services were held for Anthony Varvaro after the 37-year-old Staten Island native died in the crash on the New Jersey Turnpike early Sunday.

Varvaro's funeral Mass was held Thursday morning at the Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Tompkinsville, followed by internment at St. Peter's Cemetery.

"He was so selfless, and we're all just at a loss for words in the Staten Island community," neighbor David Carles said. "He was one of the guys. He was a neighborhood idol."

Varvaro retired in 2016 after stints with the Seattle Mariners, Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox and went on to join the Port Authority Police Department.

"You can't write this story," Port Authority Police Superintendent Edward Cetnar said. "He volunteered that day to come in to serve because he loved the command of the World Trade Center where he worked."

He was a father of four, three boys and a girl. His sons wore baseball jerseys to honor him at the funeral, while Carles wore Varvaro's rookie jersey. He said Varvaro was his mentor.

"It was never about him," Carles said. "I remember asking him questions when he was playing in the big leagues. 'How is it striking out Derek Jeter? How is it facing Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera?' He didn't care about that. It was, 'David, are you getting your swings in? How are you doing? Did you go 0-for-3? Did you strike out three times? Did you hit the game winning home run?' That's what he cared about. It was never about him."

In a poignant moment, one of Varvaro's sons left his mother's side to help ease his father's casket into the hearse -- lending a hand, the way his father taught him.

"Always raising his hand, ready to go," Cetnar said. "And if you needed something, he was the type of person, 'OK, I'm in, I'm ready to go.'"

Carles said he'll strive to be like Varvaro.

"I wish I could be the kind of dad he was, the kind of teammate he was, the baseball player he was, the role model to these kids in the community," he said. "If I can even be a piece of that, I'll be happy."

Tributes have poured in for Varvaro, who grew up in Westerleigh and played six seasons of professional baseball after a standout collegiate career at St. John's.

"Not only was he everything you could want out of a ball player, he was everything you could want in a person," said St. John's manager Mike Hampton, who was an assistant coach during all three of Varvaro's seasons there. "My heart goes out to his family, friends, teammates and fellow officers."

The crash happened early Sunday morning on the New Jersey Turnpike Hudson Bay Extension East in Jersey City.

Police say 30-year-old Henry Plazas, of Bridgewater, was traveling west in the eastbound lanes when he struck Varvaro's car head on.

Plazas also died in the crash.

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