New York As a boy growing up in Brooklyn, Frank Tepedino had one idol: Mickey Mantle.
Tepedino freely admits being in awe when, as a 19-year-old rookie with the New York Yankees, he watched Mantle hit his 500th home run.
Years later, Tepedino was part of the celebration at home plate when Atlanta teammate Hank Aaron hit his 715th homer and broke Babe Ruth's record.
These days, though, Tepedino has a different perspective on what constitutes greatness.
"My heroes now are the firefighters I'm working with," he said Thursday. "These guys run into buildings when they're on fire, when people are running out."
Tepedino, 53, has been on the job at the site of the World Trade Center collapse, part of the rescue and recovery effort.
A major league first baseman-outfielder from 1967-75, Tepedino has spent 20 years with the city's Fire Patrol.
The patrol was set up by insurance companies to help salvage commercial property. When emergencies arise, the patrol joins forces with the Fire Department of New York.
Tepedino is stationed in Greenwich Village, about five minutes from where the towers crumbled. He was at home on Long Island when the attacks occurred, and by that night had started a 24-hour shift.
"It's much worse than it looks on TV," he said.
Tepedino's firefighting family was unharmed. His son, Frank Jr., and brother, Richard, also are members of the patrol. Another son, Johnny, works for the FDNY.
"We lost one man, Keith Roma. He was the biggest Yankee fan in the firehouse," he said. "Our truck was destroyed, and the only thing they found was Keith's Yankee hat."
Tepedino wants to be at Yankee Stadium this Sunday for a memorial service for victims of the terrorist attacks. He hopes to be at Shea Stadium on Friday night when the Mets pay tribute before playing Atlanta. Braves manager Bobby Cox was Tepedino's road roommate in the minors.
Tepedino hit .241 with six home runs and 58 RBIs in 265 major league games. He made it to the majors in time to watch Mantle hit No. 500 in 1967.
"Mickey Mantle, he was my idol," he said. "It was very hard to play baseball at 19 when you're sitting next to your idol."
Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre was among Tepedino's teammates.
"He was a pretty good young hitter," Stottlemyre recalled.
Tepedino briefly played for the Milwaukee Brewers before going to the Braves in 1973. He hit .304 with four homers and 29 RBIs in 148 at-bats that season.
San Francisco manager Dusty Baker played in the Braves' outfield with Tepedino.
"I always wondered what happened for him. He was a great guy," Baker said before the Giants played Houston on Thursday. "He could hit."
Tepedino still watches baseball "every minute I can" and attended the 1996 World Series between the Yankees and Atlanta. He continues to play baseball with his sons in a league on Long Island.
Tepedino also works with several former big leaguers on Winning Beyond Winning, a group that talks to students about drug and alcohol abuse.
Once in a while, Tepedino even sees himself on TV. He shows up on tape, congratulating Aaron after the record-breaking homer in 1974.
"I'm the guy wearing the jacket with the long sideburns," he said. "The whole world was watching that night. I guess the whole world is watching now, too."