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Baseball coffins and urns made to carry die-hard fans into the next world

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Starting this season, baseball fanatics will be able to purchase official team urns and caskets. (Courtesy of Eternal Image)

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Barbara Carroll is ordering a Yankee casket. A recently retired elementary school principal, she aspires to be an usher at Yankee Stadium. ***Please note small file size: 1200 pixels by 1600 pixels*** (Courtesy of Barbara Carroll)

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Barbara Carroll is ordering a Yankee casket. A recently retired elementary school principal, she aspires to be an usher at Yankee Stadium. ***Please note small file size: 1200 pixels by 1600 pixels*** (Courtesy of Barbara Carroll)

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Barbara Carroll is ordering a Yankee casket. A recently retired elementary school principal, she aspires to be an usher at Yankee Stadium. ***Please note small file size: 1200 pixels by 1600 pixels*** (Courtesy of Barbara Carroll)

Barbara Carroll is a baseball fanatic who can’t imagine a better way to spend the late innings of life than with her beloved New York Yankees.

Bats, hats, plaques, license plates, framed photographs, musical snowballs and bobble-head dolls line the shelves of her veritable Yankees shrine in Glendale, N.Y. Her home is so crowded with souvenirs, she’s been forced to relocate much of the merchandise to her summer house in South Carolina, she said.

But Carroll, a 58-year-old recently retired elementary school principal, said she still needed one more piece of merchandise to cement her status as a die-hard fan.

“I’m ordering a Yankees casket,” she said before the Yankees took the field for their first spring training game of the new season. “That’s what I want when I die. I may not go to heaven, but I’m going to be remembered as a Yankees fan.”

Thanks to a licensing agreement between Major League Baseball and Eternal Image, a Michigan company that designs and manufactures caskets and urns, superfans will soon have a new way to prove their undying fealty to their favorite teams. Starting on the opening day of the baseball season, caskets and urns decorated in team colors and emblazoned with official logos will be available at funeral homes in cities near eight teams.

“There’s been a lot of effort made recently to personalize the funeral business,” said Clint Mytych, the CEO of Eternal Image, whose company specializes in several lines of funeral products, including Vatican- and American Kennel Club-themed items.

“We decided we wanted to do something with a sports organization,” he said. “Of all of them, Major League Baseball seemed to be the one with the biggest fan base and the most loyal fans.”

Although the initial lineup will feature the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers, St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers, a company spokesman said the other teams weren't being overlooked. Twelve will be added later in the season, with the remainder released next year.

Each urn will sit atop a home plate-shaped base and come stamped with a message saying, “Major League Baseball officially recognizes [deceased's name] as a lifelong fan of [team name].” Fans will even be able to show off their favorite autographed baseballs in the urn’s display dome.

While the majority of mourners continue to honor their loved ones in traditional, somber services, others are opting for a decidedly different, more customized approach. Which begs the question: If there’s no crying in baseball, what exactly happens at a baseball-themed funeral?

For the family of an everlasting Yankees fan, such a funeral might involve donning pinstripes instead of dark suits or belting out “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” instead of a more melancholy dirge, said Diana Kurz, the eastern regional coordinator of the National Funeral Directors Association and the director of the Newington Memorial Funeral Home in Newington, Conn.

“There are many families who have a whole theme that surrounds the casket,” she said. “Their loved one’s recliner is there with their remote and the TV, almost like props to reflect this person’s life.”

Buying an official team urn, she said, is just one very small way a family can personalize a funeral.

“Sometimes, if the family says their loved one was such a Yankees fan, the whole floral piece is made into a giant New York Yankees insignia with a baseball made out of flowers,” she said.

Susan Goodenow, an MLB spokeswoman, says that baseball-related funerals have been a hit with fans for some time.

“In the past we have received numerous requests to use MLB club logos for various teams on funereal items,” she said. “Many fans choose to celebrate the passion for their favorite club posthumously in a variety of creative ways.”

Mytych, who says he’s been fielding hundreds of advance requests for urns and caskets, said it didn’t take much convincing to get the league on board.

“We didn’t even have to meet with them in person,” he said. “They wanted to do this for a long time.”

Lawrence Brandon, the director of Brandon Funeral Home in Fitchburg, Mass., is making room for the first shipment of Red Sox caskets.

“We’ve had plenty of interest,” he said. “I’ve been in the business about 30 years, and I’ve seen the old come back to new as far as people wanting more personalized funerals.”

Although families will be able to order any team casket from a catalog, Brandon already knows the outcome of the final Yankees-Red Sox showdown.

“Being in the Boston area, I’d anticipate a majority of Red Sox fans,” he said.

Still, some baseball fans are already crying foul.

“I can see the ad now,” quipped a fan on a St. Louis Cardinals message board. “Cheer for eternity in the ultimate skybox, whether you’re in World Series heaven or Cubs sweep hell, you will go first class in this MLB authentic. Rest your head on game-used bases as you slide home. Infield dirt available for graveside services.”

On a Red Sox blog, another fan pondered the grave consequences of a botched burial.

“The ultimate in a bitter marriage would be for the wife to bury her husband in a Yankees casket if he was a Red Sox fan,” he said.

For her own part, however, Carroll is just trying to keep her head in the game and not focus on making the final out quite yet.

“I’m just counting down the days until the start of the season,” she said.

E-mail: asg2157@columbia.edu