Baseball lost one of its most loyal and beloved figures when Don Zimmer died on Wednesday at the age of 83.
On Saturday, many of Zimmer's friends from within the game, spanning several generations, gathered at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg to pay their respects to his family, and to share stories and memories about a man who touched all of their lives at one time or another over the past six and a half decades, and a man who always shed a positive light on the game they all love.
"He was baseball," friend Joe Torre said. "The ballpark was his tabernacle."
The Tampa Bay Rays, who employed Zimmer as a special advisor from 2004 until his death, joined the visiting Seattle Mariners in paying tribute to the baseball legend with a special pregame ceremony. As Zimmer's friends and family looked on, both teams walked on to the field wearing his No. 23 jersey from his rookie season with the Brooklyn Dodgers as a nod to his 65 incredible years in the game.
It was a highly emotional tribute, but nothing compared to the nearly eight-minute video that featured photos, career highlights and comments from many of those who knew Zimmer best. Among those who spoke in the video were current Rays manager Joe Maddon, Yankees manager Joe Girardi, former Rays right-hander James Shields, and current Rays ace David Price. It was clear each felt like they shared a special bond with Zimmer, which just shows how special he was.
He was everybody's friend, everyone's lovable uncle, everybody's favorite teammate, and a confidant all could rely on. Don Zimmer was one-of-a-kind, because you simply won't find another man as universally beloved within one genre as he was.
Saturday's tribute cemented as much.
"I just hope people realize what a great baseball man this guy was," said Jim Leyland, another of Zimmer's closest friends. "I want people to remember how good he was."
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