Friday, February 15, 2008

From Pee Wee to Zim to B.J.

You had everything you needed Friday at the Tampa Bay Rays complex in St. Petersburg for a perfect day to begin spring training.

There was sun and a cloudless sky and, perhaps most importantly, no wind.

There was Scott Kazmir, the reigning American League strikeout champ, throwing off the bullpen mound in the same group as newly acquired closer Troy Percival, the man expected to lead this young pitching staff, and lefty David Price, the first overall pick of last June’s draft, who is expected to be a stud in the Rays' rotation in the near future.

The young and the old and the All-Star.

And you also had Zim – Rays senior baseball adviser Don Zimmer.

The 77-year-old Zimmer is beginning his 60th year in baseball, which is why you might have noticed his new number – 60.

Zim has been celebrating his years in baseball this way for sometime.
He has spent the past 50 years at the major league level, including the past 37 as a manager, coach or adviser.

Seeing him leaning against the batting cage on a practice field while bench coach Dave Martinez hit ground balls to the pitchers during fielding practice is a sight as old as spring training itself.

He is one of those aging ex-ballplayers who stick around year after year after year to teach the kids how to play the game the right way.

Zim learned from Pee Wee Reese and Jackie Robinson and passes his knowledge on to B.J. Upton and Carlos Pena.

He is as much a part of the game as the sacrifice fly and the hit-and-run.

Watch him lean against the batting cage advising young players on how to play long enough to be considered aging vets like Rays outfielder Cliff Floyd and Percival, and it is hard not to get excited about the upcoming season, no matter which uniform Zim is wearing.

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