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Rays to honor Don Zimmer at Saturday's game

ST. PETERSBURG — Don Zimmer was most happy at the ballpark. He grew up around them, got married at one, spent most of his last 66 years in them.

So it is only right that his life will be celebrated at one.

The Rays announced plans for a ceremony honoring Zimmer, who died Wednesday at age 83, prior to Saturday's 4:10 p.m. game against Seattle at Tropicana Field.

Zimmer was adamant that he did not want a formal funeral. He will be cremated, and there will be no other memorial service. "We have no church," son Tom Zimmer said. "Pop's temple was the ballpark."

"His whole life was at the ballpark," Zimmer's wife, Soot, said. "What better way to end it than at a ballpark? We're so appreciative of the Rays for doing this."

Details of the ceremony, which will feature a video tribute, are being finalized. Big names expected to attend include Andre Dawson, Tommy Lasorda, Jim Leyland, Lou Piniella and Joe Torre.

Other items being talked about include an homage to the No. 23 Brooklyn Dodgers uniform Zimmer first wore, unveiling of the ZIM patch the Rays will wear on their jersey sleeves, and bagpipe music. Also, Zimmer's granddaughter Whitney Mollica Goldstein will throw out the first pitch and son Tom will catch it.

"Definitely it's going to be interesting," Rays manager Joe Maddon said. "I know he doesn't want it to be heaped on too much, that's not his personality. But nevertheless we've got to do something to really indicate how special he was."

The Rays' first tribute to Zimmer was a moment of silence before Thursday's game against Miami. Also, they arranged for electronic billboards in his honor around the Tampa Bay area.

Meanwhile, the Rays and the rest of the baseball world continued to praise Zimmer's influence and impact during his 66 years in the game.

"The outpouring has been unbelievable," Soot said. "The people we've heard from, it's just amazing. And so gratifying."

At the start of the annual draft at the MLB Network New Jersey studio, commissioner Bud Selig told the future pros, "I hope all of you cherish the game as much as Don Zimmer did."

Former and current players, from luminaries such as Hall of Famer Johnny Bench ("My heart is very sad. A HOF person and someone overlooked for his service has moved on.") to part-timers such as former Ray Jose Lobaton ("So sad to hear the news, it was great to have met you Don Zimmer.") took to Twitter to share their feelings.

"I wouldn't be in the big leagues if Zim wasn't there for me when I was a young player," former Rays/current Braves outfielder B.J. Upton said.

And while many credited Zimmer for helping them, his family thanked the Rays — from principal owner Stuart Sternberg down — for hiring him as a senior adviser for the last 11 seasons: "You will never know what that meant to an aging baseball lifer who thrived at being around the ballpark. Stu, you literally kept him alive for another four to five years by this gracious gesture. "

The family asked that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the National Kidney Foundation (kidney.org) or the Baseball Assistance team (baseballassistanceteam.com).

Rays to honor Don Zimmer at Saturday's game 06/05/14 [Last modified: Friday, June 6, 2014 12:13am]
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