At Isotopes Park on Saturday, Pete Domenici was remembered not only as a U.S. senator who worked across the aisle and a devoted family man, but also as a baseball player and fan.
About 200 people who attended Domenici’s public memorial service in Albuquerque got ballpark treats – peanuts, Baby Ruth candy bars and Cracker Jack – and Domenici baseball cards. A huge image of Domenici, who died Wednesday at age 85, throwing a baseball was projected on the Isotopes’ scoreboard. The memorial was divided into nine innings and the crowd sang “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” to the stadium organ.
“Dad was a pitcher for the Dukes and he always loved the game – even to the end of his life, he was watching the (Washington) Nationals,” said Clare Domenici, one of Domenici’s daughters. “And we just wanted to share that aspect of his life, a hobby that he enjoyed.”
Lisa Domenici, another daughter who was wearing a Nationals jersey, said her dad was “a pretty humble guy who bought his clothes at Sears Roebuck” and that baseball was his passion.
“In a way it was an analogy for his life,” she said. “To always strive to be the best, to be competitive, to enjoy the game, the teamwork.”
Former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, now Secretary of the Air Force, was among those who addressed the crowd from behind home plate.
Wilson, who held the Albuquerque area’s U.S. House seat from 1998-2009, said Republican Domenici was a skilled lawmaker who “built bridges and got things done,” part of a short list of senators in recent decades who could “rise above parochialism and the smallness of any moment in time and choose to bring all of their gifts to the service of the nation.”
He was also a self-described “sucker for big science” who supported efforts such as the Human Genome Project. But the man who served in the Senate from 1973 to 2009 could be “completely clueless,” she joked, about how to turn off a cellphone.
Wilson said Domenici’s role in deregulating the natural gas industry “changed the landscape for American energy” and credited him for working with President Bill Clinton to negotiate the last two federal balanced budgets, in the 1990s.
Domenici was also lauded for his longtime effort to improve health care coverage for people with mental health issues. Kathy Finch, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness-Albuquerque, thanked the Domenici family for “caring for the rest of America as if we were your family, too.”
Former Carlsbad Mayor Robert Forrest talked about another Domenici passion – quail hunting. Forrest regaled the crowd with tales of taking Domenici on hunts – maybe the “most memorable” was when Dick Cheney was shot accidentally, before he became vice president, the former mayor said. The hunting gave Forrest time to bend the senator’s ear about funding for projects like the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant. “I’ll support it as long as it’s safe,” Forrest quoted Domenici as saying.
“I remember the day Elvis died, I remember 9/11 and I remember the three times Pete Domenici told me he loved me,” Forrest said.
Gov. Susana Martinez presented Domenici’s widow, Nancy, with a New Mexico flag.
Former Democratic Sen. Jeff Bingaman remembered working with Domenici on an energy bill that passed the Senate with majorities among both Republicans and Democrats, “not something we see too often in the U.S. Senate these days,” and Albuquerque Mayor Richard Berry said he learned from Domenici both by example and from mentoring, including advice that “today’s opponent is tomorrow’s ally.”
Nella Domenici, another daughter, also stressed her father’s bipartisan nature in a session with reporters before the memorial started.
She said former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia called after her father died this week. Nunn reflected on how he and Domenici, Democrat and Republican, spent “so many years working so well together.”
They were best friends, she said, “and they could craft legislation that was truly bipartisan.”
Earlier in the day, around 800 mourners gathered at Albuquerque’s Our Lady of Fatima for a traditional Catholic funeral Mass.
Martinez, Wilson, Berry, U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce – who also spoke at the ballpark memorial – and Albuquerque Police Chief Gorden Eden were among those attending.
After Mass, dozens of police vehicles escorted a hearse containing Domenici’s remains from the church, presumably to his burial place.
Journal staff writer Maddy Hayden contributed to this report.