ST. PETERSBURG — Rays senior adviser Don Zimmer said each of the 54 big-league opening days he has experienced has been special in its own way.
But Zimmer, 82, will likely never forget his latest Tuesday. At the urging of bench coach Dave Martinez, the entire Rays team stood behind home plate as Zimmer's son, Tom, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to third baseman Evan Longoria, making for a touching and emotional moment.
All players, coaches and staff members helped deliver the ball to Zimmer, who had tears in his eyes as he was flanked by wife, Soot, daughter-in-law, Marian, and grandsons Bo and Ron.
"I thought he really responded to us; you could tell he was a little bit emotional," second baseman Ben Zobrist said. "He really cares about us, every one of us individually. To see all of us out there, I think that was special for him and you could see that in his face."
Said manager Joe Maddon: "That was outstanding. … He absolutely deserves that. That whole moment was very, very good. The photographs are going to be outstanding with that, I'm sure."
Maddon said Zimmer, who managed four teams and served as Yankees bench coach, has become iconic. Zimmer, entering his 10th season with the Rays, has been a respected adviser to the staff and an invaluable resource to players, including Longoria, who calls him a "great mentor" and "great ambassador for baseball."
But with Zimmer having to undergo dialysis eight hours a day, he wasn't around as much this spring and admitted it's a struggle for him to walk. Zimmer, who is usually in uniform in the dugout for every home game, feels incredibly lucky to be in baseball for 65 years and said it was important his family was there for Tuesday's opener.
Said Zimmer: "You never know if it's going to be the last."