There may not be a person in the world that is more passionate about baseball than Don Zimmer. Every single year since 1949 (only 46 years before I was born), Zim has been involved in baseball in some capacity. Baseball is not a kind sport to aging players, yet Zimmer found a way to stay around in pro ball as a player from the time he was 18 until he was 36. He would have fit in with the current Tampa Bay Rays team, as he was a versatile player who saw significant time at 3B, SS, 2B, and even some time at catcher. Not only did he play in the U.S. during his career, but he spent time in Japan, Cuba, Mexico, and Puerto Rico as well. Zim then coached in the minor leagues before seeing his first game as a manager with the San Diego Padres in 1972. He must have liked it, because he went on to manage over 1700 games while compiling an 885-858 record. He has also spent time in many other roles with many teams, and has been serving as a senior advisor to the Rays ever since 2004. As you can tell, there are not too many people who love the game so much to stay around baseball so long.
Unfortunately, Zimmer, now 83 years old, has been struggling with health issues as of late. He underwent heart surgery back in April, and has required a ventilator to breathe ever since. However, he is making progress in his rehab, and he has been working his way to coming off of the ventilator. The Rays have carried Zimmer’s jersey in the dugout with them for almost the entire season, but on Friday they made an even better gesture. Tom Foley, the Rays third base coach, wore Zimmer’s number 66 jersey out on the field with him to honor Zim. What a great tribute to one of the best figures in all of baseball history. The Rays deserve credit for how they have honored such a baseball legend, and so does the MLB for allowing Foley to wear his jersey. It seems that the Rays will continue this tribute to Zimmer for the time being.
This moment is a great reminder that sometimes baseball goes well beyond what happens on the field. Baseball is not just a sport, it is a lifestyle, and that is something that Don Zimmer has shown ever since he was signed as an 18-year old in 1949. The Tampa Bay Rays have taken the time to honor the baseball legend, and we should all take the time to recognize just how big of a role Zimmer has had in this game for the past 65 years. Here’s to Zim having a speedy recovery!