Bob Cerv loved baseball, he loved teaching and, most of all, he loved his family.
"He was a hell of man," said longtime friend Don Clark of Wahoo. "Baseball was a career, but family was first."
Cerv, one of the greatest baseball players to come out of the state of Nebraska, died Thursday night. He was 91.
Funeral services are set for 10 a.m. Monday at St. John the Evangelist's Church in Weston. A visitation will take place from 5-7 p.m. Sunday at the church.
Nebraska had a moment of silence for Cerv before Friday's baseball game against Maryland at Haymarket Park.
Born and raised in Weston, Cerv became the first Husker baseball player to receive first-team All-America honors. He later became the first Husker to participate in a major-league all-star game, and he played in three World Series.
With his professional playing days behind him, Cerv turned his attention to coaching. He coached college baseball at Southeast Missouri State and John F. Kennedy College in Wahoo.
Clark played for Cerv at Kennedy. What did he learn from a former major-leaguer who played with the likes of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Don Larsen?
"It was just the fundamentals of baseball," Clark said. "Leading off. How to bunt. How to slide, and how to throw to a base, and how to cut off.
"He wouldn't even let us hit until we had the fundamentals down. We must have worked on it for two, three weeks."
Clark recalls seeing the likes of Maris and "Moose" Skowron at some of Kennedy's practices.
"And (Bob would) get kicked out of every game on the road," Clark said with a laugh, "because the press was there. So he'd kick some dirt, and then he'd go up and visit (reporters)."
After serving in the Navy out of high school, Cerv became a four-year starter at Nebraska from 1947-50, and he led the program to two Big Seven championships. He was named an All-American after batting .444 in 1950, which ranks seventh on Nebraska's single-season charts. He also led the nation with an .878 slugging percentage.
Baseball was his sport, but Cerv showed some skill on the basketball court.
"He was shooting there with a couple of his friends, and the coach (Nebraska's Harry Good) said come on down, scrimmage us," Clark recalls of the story. "Well, he scrimmaged and he dominated, so they put him on a team."
Cerv lettered in baseball and basketball for four seasons.
Cerv signed with the New York Yankees for $5,000 out of college and was assigned to the franchise's Triple-A team in Kansas City. In 1954, Cerv made his big-league debut, and in 1956, the Yankees traded Cerv to the Kansas City A's.
Cerv's best season came in 1958 when he hit .305 with 38 home runs and 104 RBIs. He was named an American League starter in the all-star game. The player he beat out for the starting spot in the outfield for that game? Ted Williams.
Cerv, who finished fourth in the AL MVP voting in 1958, also competed in the home-run derby that season, defeating Frank Robinson.
He followed his breakout 1958 season with another strong year, finishing with 29 home runs and 87 RBIs in 1959.
In 1960, Cerv was traded back to the Yankees for Andy Carey. After seeing his playing time decrease, Cerv was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels following the 1960 season, but he was traded back to the Yankees in 1961.
It was that season that Cerv was a housemate of Maris and Mantle. Maris would go on to hit a major-league record 61 home runs that season. Many years later, Cerv was portrayed in Billy Crystal's "61*" movie.
"He always said the best player he ever, ever saw was Mickey Mantle," Clark said. "Nobody could touch him."
Cerv was traded to the Houston Colt .45s in 1962 and was released a month later.
Cerv's career numbers in the big leagues: 105 home runs, 624 hits and a .276 batting average.
Nebraska was always home to Cerv. He threw out the first ceremonial pitch when the Lincoln Saltdogs began play at Haymarket Park in 2001. Cerv family reunions took place every year in Wahoo.
Cerv was living in Blair at the time of his death.
Clark said a 6-foot marble monument is going up in Cerv's honor in Weston in July.
The Nebraska baseball team also will do a Cerv bobblehead giveaway (to the first 750 fans) for the May 5 home game against Rutgers. May 5 is Cerv's birthday.