TRINITY — The service was fast, a small cluster of mourners arriving Saturday afternoon in five black SUVs and pallbearers walking George Steinbrenner's casket from the hearse to a private mausoleum.
Steinbrenner's wife and four children were there. Outside the gates of Trinity Memorial Gardens near New Port Richey, a throng of reporters and photographers camped out even as New York Yankees representatives, cemetery officials and sheriff's deputies guarding the entrances stayed tight-lipped.
Inside the gates, those closest to the Yankees owner — who died Tuesday at age 80 of a heart attack — said their final goodbyes to "the Boss" in this Pasco County cemetery, about 30 miles north of his South Tampa home.
"No kidding," said Frank Balogh, who pulled his Buick to the side of State Road 54. "I thought he would have been buried in Tampa."
The cemetery was closed for the service. Deputies in marked and unmarked cruisers patrolled the roads for security breaches for hours. The event was so hush-hush that the deputies didn't know until a briefing that morning. Reporters and photographers parked on the grass on the north side of State Road 54, then darted across six lanes of traffic to stand on the cemetery's sidewalk.
As Balogh, 72, drove his wife to the grocery store, he saw the gathering of journalists. He dropped off his wife and the groceries at his house, and went to investigate.
"I'm nosey," he said.
Other gawkers stopped throughout the morning and afternoon. A driver braked from 55 mph to shout, "What's going on?"
Brendan Morgan, 33, went with his girlfriend to visit her daughter's grave early that morning, as they do every week, before the entrance was closed. Even then, an official asked who they were and why they were there.
Steinbrenner "gave a lot to the community," Morgan said.
The Steinbrenner family and a small group of others arrived at the funeral home at 3 p.m. About 45 minutes later, they were at the mausoleum, a classic, white stone design with four columns. They were gone a little after 4 p.m., about the same time as the Yankees' home game against the Tampa Bay Rays started. On a normal day, the cemetery would have stayed open until 7 p.m. This time, it closed after the family left, the gates locked and flags at half-staff.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6229.