Rays share valued memories of Don Zimmer

Don Zimmer spent 66 years in professional baseball, 56 of those in some capacity at the major-league level.

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The first steps were taken in moving on, but heavy hearts remained. Less than a day after Don Zimmer’s death Wednesday night, the Rays continued to share reflections about the baseball legend men throughout the game grew to love over his 66 seasons in professional baseball.

Here’s a collection of thoughts Thursday afternoon from the Rays clubhouse at Tropicana Field about Zimmer, who served 11 seasons as Tampa Bay’s senior advisor.


"He’s a teacher, a mentor, but more a friend than anything. I can go on and on about so many stories and all the tough love that we had. But the one thing I can always say, every time I walked in, I knew he was going to be here. … I think he’s prolonged our lives. I really do. Like I said, he’s a joy to be around. He’d always have so many stories. He’d take a dismal moment and change everything just by looking at him. Something was going to come out of his mouth, whether it was funny, whether it was serious. But he was going to say something."


"It’s extremely rare for somebody to go about his time and his work with the care and the concern for everybody in the clubhouse, for everybody in the organization. I think the thing that meant the most, that showed how rare (he was), was the fact that he and his wife’s relationship and their family (was strong). One thing he told my wife once is that she (Jean, Zimmer’s wife) never knew whether he had a good game or a bad game when he came home from the ballpark. He was just the same Zim all the time, and that says something. It says something about his consistency and his character, and that’s rare. That’s just very, very rare to spend so many years in the game and (it) not only doesn’t make you crazy, but you’re a good man at the same time."


Remembering Don Zimmer

"You feel like a little kid around the campfire listening to some old stories. It’s pretty special when you think about guys like Yogi (Berra) and guys who have been around the game for a while — they’re kind of living legends. Zim was definitely one of those. … I just remember having some cool conversations about anything and everything, Mostly, obviously, about baseball and the way it used to be and how it is now and how much it has changed and how to play the game the right way and how things are viewed differently now. You just have to take every day and as Zim would want every player to be — just give it everything you’ve got. You play hard, and you play through a lot of things. Things aren’t always going to go the way you want. But you have to find a way."


"He told me so many stories about Jackie Robinson, something that I can read about but never get — he was there, first-hand experience. So that was always special to me. Learning about a legend through another legend and to know that Don was on his side, was on Jackie’s side, just tells you about the person that he was. … Most of his teammates at the time weren’t on his side, and Zim was. So utmost respect, whether he had 66 years in the game or one. The fact that he was on his side shows you what type of character he had."


"I’ve been around some guys who don’t sugarcoat it. And I really appreciate the guy that doesn’t sugarcoat it. I do, personally. I think the way a lot of the world revolves or works today, you have to be more politically correct in conversations so you don’t hurt somebody’s feelings. … I think it’s the combination of the simplicity and his directness and then of course the face — a very disarming (face). Don’t be deceived with this bulldog kind of exterior. (He was) probably the biggest softie you’ve ever met in your life underneath. So he was this amalgam of different people wrapped up into this one guy that comes along very, very infrequently."

You can follow Andrew Astleford on Twitter @aastleford or email him at aastleford@gmail.com.