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Lancaster prepares for funeral of slain major leaguer Danny Clyburn Jr.

In the parking lot of Crawford Funeral Home Friday, after going inside to pay respects, the white man with the white hair strode up to the black man with the dark hair touched with gray and stuck out his hand.

The second man accepted the handshake, and the grasp was kept for a few seconds. Then the first man's other hand grasped the second man's shoulder.

>"Nobody was better on the baseball field, Danny," said the guy with the white hair, who just happens to be the mayor of Lancaster, Joe Shaw. But in that parking lot, he was a mourner. He was a sad man who knew greatness had been lost. "I am so sorry."

Shaw was speaking to Danny Clyburn Sr. about the former major league ballplayer named Danny Clyburn Jr.

The son, 37, during a short visit to his hometown, was shot and killed early Tuesday. Police say Clyburn's lifelong friend pulled the trigger after an argument.

It is just that simple. Two men, one gun, an argument. One is dead; the other is in jail, maybe forever.

"I sure appreciate that, Mayor," said Clyburn Sr. He would say how he appreciated people's thoughts and condolences throughout much of Friday to dozens of people.

Inside that funeral home, in an open casket underneath a video screen showing pictures of a young ballplayer crushing baseballs with his bat, smiling in major league dugouts and outfields, lay Danny Clyburn Jr.'s body.

After about an hour, Clyburn Sr. couldn't watch the repeated picture tributes, played over and over on a computer screen as mourners came in for visitation.

"You see the pictures and it reminds you of how great he was," Clyburn said in a quiet voice. This is not a family of shouters or braggarts. The Clyburns are humble and quiet.

"When it came to baseball, he was great."

Yes, Danny Clyburn Jr. was great on the field. Drafted straight out of high school in 1992, he played pro ball for more than a decade - 41 games in the majors in 1997-1999. He hit four homers in the major leagues with the Baltimore Orioles and Tampa Bay Devil Rays.

In 1997, his best total season before a call-up to the majors, he was the star player on the AAA minor league champion Rochester Red Wings. He hit a mammoth home run in the AAA all-star game on national television.

Clyburn's 17-year-old son, Gavin, keeps a picture of that home run ball and a 1997 season championship ring as his cellphone screensaver photo.

"He was a great hitter," Gavin said of his dad.

Clyburn Jr. seemed destined to be a major league star. He could run, throw, field, hit for average and hit for power.

Despite being what they call a five-tool player, stardom did not come after short stints at the top of the mountain.

But he did play in the majors briefly, and that's what people recalled as they filed into, then out of, that funeral home. Clyburn had reached the top of what he did, played with the best in the world.

In those days, the early and mid-1990s, four pro baseball players came out of Lancaster - Clyburn, his cousins John Barnes and Mark Anthony, and Pep Harris. Harris and Clyburn made the majors.

"He was a terrific player, and he was a terrific person," said cousin Kathy Barnes. "I know baseball, too; my son John played pro ball."

All these people talked about how Clyburn's success meant a little bit of success for all of them. Person after person hugged his father, his sister, his son. Clyburn, divorced after marrying his post-high school sweetheart, had two children before his marriage ended.

After his playing days ended, he did have a conviction for drug possession and drunken driving. But that was seven years ago - Clyburn was trying to get back into baseball and coaching in California.

The sole reason he was back in Lancaster for a few days was to see his children and family, pick up a car, and drive back to California. Danny was living outside Los Angeles, his sister said, in the country.

He arrived in Charlotte on Saturday in the late afternoon in a typically humble Danny Clyburn Jr. way - on a bus. A friend picked him up and drove him to Lancaster, where he immediately made the rounds to see his children, his father and sister and nephew.

"He would tell us how where he stayed was on the other side of the hills from the Hollywood sign - out of the spotlight," said sister Lisa Clyburn. "Not the L.A. you see on TV with the rappers and all that stuff. Not Compton and that nonsense.

"He was the same quiet guy he always was. He played with my son, his nephew, for hours the day he died. He was just a nice, decent, quiet man."

But later, at around 2 a.m. Tuesday, Clyburn was shot, police said, after an argument outside a clubhouse. Clyburn and his longtime friend, Derrick McIlwain, who is charged with murder, had watched the Super Bowl together just a night earlier at the same place.

McIlwain, who has a long history of criminal convictions, is related to Clyburn by marriage, Clyburn's sister said.

"My brother was a good man, a good father; he didn't live a fast life," Lisa Clyburn said. "He was just seeing friends while he was home. When he came home for several weeks before Thanksgiving, he spent the time with his children and his family."

Danny Clyburn Sr. told many friends Friday how his son had been around Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

"He was the same quiet guy he always was," Clyburn Sr. said. "I wish he had stayed at my house instead of going to say hello to people Monday night."

But as Monday night turned into Tuesday morning, the quiet ended with a single gunshot, and Danny Clyburn Jr. dead.

On Friday, outside that little house/clubhouse where Clyburn's life ended - and just two blocks from where the funeral will be at 2 p.m. today - there were 14 balloons, several bouquets of flowers and a homemade cross. A broken plastic chair sat on the porch next to a storm door that had a torn screen.

All of this just down the block from where Clyburn grew up wanting to be a major leaguer.

Yet where Clyburn died could not have been farther from those baseball fields where he had such success. A pair of guys moved a used freezer from a house Friday across the street and two doors down from the shooting scene.

"I never saw a player better," said the one guy to the other. "Danny Clyburn was the greatest we ever had here."

The men loaded up the freezer, tied it on with a piece of old rope, and drove off in a rusty pickup.

Back at the funeral home, Clyburn's father hoped that maybe, just maybe, some of the players his son took the field with in the majors or minors - or the teams he played for - would call.

Because Danny Clyburn Jr., his son, gave his best for those teams.

"Maybe people around the country don't know what happened," Clyburn said. "But Danny never bragged. If somebody didn't know he played in the major leagues, he didn't tell them."

Sports media, which normally sucks up to successes on the field, gushing of glory, comes down like a sledgehammer when a former player dies a violent death. Clyburn's death has been all over the news, all around the country and the world via the Internet since Tuesday.

Yet his father said no pro player or team has reached out to him to offer even a card or word of condolence.

That's what happens in a small city like Lancaster, far from the spotlight of the distant major league past of 13 years before.

The spotlight fades, and the mayor is the one and only dignitary to stick out a hand and say that Danny Clyburn Jr. was among the best - if not the best - Lancaster player to ever hit a baseball.

Shaw, that mayor, said as he was leaving the funeral home, that he would inquire to see if the city might do something to honor Danny Clyburn Jr. - a plaque, a resolution, something.

"He was ours," said Shaw. "A man from Lancaster, in the major leagues."

Back in September, Andrew Jackson High School, located in southern Lancaster County, a small rural school in the country, defeated Great Falls High School in football.

On the first play from scrimmage, the quarterback for Andrew Jackson, No. 1 on his jersey, ran 80 yards for a touchdown.

The kid's name was Gavin Clyburn. Danny Clyburn Jr.'s son. But few - if any - other than family knew that this star athlete was the son of a former major league player.

"My dad didn't brag; he taught me to be humble," Gavin Clyburn said Friday, from a place no son so young should ever have to stand - the parking lot of a funeral home.

He had received friends of his father and looked at his father in a casket, underneath pictures of his father's athletic glory.

"My dad was the best."

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