Zimmer hopes to make one more memory

ST. PETERSBURG – After experiencing it 19 times in his more than 60 years in professional baseball, the chills still come to Don Zimmer.

Naturally, the October weather is considerably calmer as the seasons are in full flux, but at the few ballparks that are still lucky enough to have baseball still going on, there is an unmatched electricity.

“These kind of games never get old,” Zimmer said.

The baseball legend, who first broke into the major leagues in 1954 with the Brooklyn Dodgers was on hand to catch Tampa Bay attempt to crawl out of a 2-0 hole against Boston.

A senior advisor for the Rays since 2004, Zimmer spoke about what makes these games so special.

“There’s a lot of clubs that would like to be here,” said the 82-year-old Zimmer, whose health has deteriorated and body become frail. “The thing is, you still have a chance to go to the World Series. It’s the ultimate.”

So far, Zimmer has been on the winning side of the season’s final game six times, winning two championships with the Dodgers in the 1950’s and four in five years with the Yankees from 1996-2000.

Wherever Zimmer went, he seemed to be successful and playing meaningful games in October. In the three full seasons from 1977-79 managing the Red Sox, Zimmer’s teams won at least 90 games in each year. As a third base coach with the club in 1975, he was part of the Game 6 World Series win – though the series would eventually belong to Cincinnati – that is considered among the greatest games ever played.

Even with the “lovable loser” Cubs, Zimmer was able to guide the franchise to the postseason. The 1989 team loaded with young talent, including Mark Grace, Greg Maddux, along with veterans Ryne Sandberg and Andre Dawson, was able to capture a National League East title.

“I think we won maybe six games in Spring Training and lost maybe 17 that year,” Zimmer recalled. “I said this was not going to be fun when we had five rookies in the lineup.”

Zimmer paused for a second, recalling his treasure trove of memories.

“They said you couldn’t win with a rookie catcher, and I asked, ‘What do you want me to do?’” he said, referring to Joe Girardi. “One of the biggest thrills I ever got in baseball is when we clinched the division title in Montreal. Chicago was a great town, and there’s nothing like Cubbies.”

As for the group of Rays, Zimmer didn’t want to make predictions and simply said the club did “some crazy things” this year and that he had full faith in manager Joe Maddon.

“He isn’t going to put any stress on the players, that’s not Joe’s thing. He does a great job.”

As Zimmer sat back in his padded chair behind home plate, where he always sits before Tampa Bay home games, he smiled at the thought of coming back in the series, acknowledging that baseball isn’t meant to be predicted.

Instead he simply hoped for at least one more memory to be made.

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