There are still great joys to be had in this business of Major League Baseball. Hanging around a batting cage during spring training is one of them, especially if one of those you’re hanging with is named Don Zimmer.
This week he was in uniform for a Tampa Bay spring game, leaning on a fungo bat, watching the kids take swings.
Sixty-two years, that’s how many seasons Zim has been in baseball. The tradition is he changes his uniform number to that increasing number each season.
Baseball can only hope he reaches triple digits.
He is a senior advisor for the Rays ownership and a sounding board for Rays’ manager Joe Madden.
Zimmer had back surgery this offseason, leaving the legs a little weak. When asked if he still hits fungos, he says, “No, but they make good canes.” A big grin spreads across his face as he demonstrates, but the legs look just fine.
“The trainers with the Rays have given me a cart back at our camp,” he says.
“It’s a golf cart to get around in and they painted the sides with flames,” he laughs.
Oh, yeah, that’s Zim.
Baseball-wise he likes his Tampa Bay team. “This is the best ball club, the most talent, we’ve had here,” he says. “The one more year the young pitchers have gone through and the depth of talent we have gives us a chance.”
Like everyone else, when you play in the AL East, you always have to factor in the difficulty of dealing with the Red Sox and Yankees.
“You have to get out quick,” says Zim. “You can’t make up games in the East.”
Tampa Bay is a team that has to watch the dollars closely. If they do not get off to a good start, the farther they fall behind, the more likely they will look to move money and quality players and turn to their youth.
Zimmer believes that will not happen, but the test comes early with 16 division games in April, including three against the Yankees and four at Fenway.
Through it all, Zimmer will be there with the steady hand and quiet voice. One can only look at his baseball career in awe.
He was 18 when he broke into the pros, signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1954. He was a teammate of Jackie Robinson and a member of their 1955 World Championship team.
He played with 13 Hall of Famers, from Robinson, to Sandy Koufax, to Pee Wee Reese.
Through 12 major league playing seasons, four managerial jobs and a million fungos, his passion for the game has never diminished.
Someone has even set up a Web site in his honor — CollectingZim.com.
This is a good man and a baseball treasure. Hanging with Zim, I love this game.