TK's Take: Visiting with the Zimmer's was like spending a day with your own family

Don Zimmer, a Tampa Bay treasure

TAMPA - Where do we begin to share my memories of Don Zimmer?

There are many, mostly baseball related. I would prefer to share with you two off the field.

PHOTOS: Remembering Don Zimmer

The first goes back some 20 years ago.  I went to visit Don and his wife, Jean (Soot).

"Z" and Soot had laid their roots in Treasure Island long before our meeting. They lived off a canal.  Their kids were much younger.

It wasn't your opulent home one would picture a baseball guy living in. A nice neighborhood, unassuming, no gates, no security guards.

Access to his home was as easy as the stories that rolled off his tongue when it came to the game he loved so dearly.

We went to his home to talk about, what else, baseball.  By the time we left, Soot and Don shared some of their family stories.

Standing on the pier where their kids would jump off and swim. How much they enjoyed their home life in Treasure Island.

Soot spoke of being a baseball wife.  Hint:  Don might have had that feisty exterior in a uniform, but when he was at home, Soot was everything.  

They were so kind.  So engaging, and funny.  They would crack on each other as if they were best pals.  Oh, they were.

I remember that day as Don told me he had a one-of-a-kind wife.  As he said, "It ain't easy being a baseball wife."

We talked about his time in Chicago where he was named NL Manager of the Year.  I brought up that tall high-rise condo directly out in center field behind the famous scoreboard.  

Don lived there during the season.  He said he would wake up every morning and look out the window and see Wrigley Field.  Go figure for a man who spent 66 years in the game.

We talked about the Chi-town hood.  The occasional haunts on Rush and Division.  It was almost as if we were sitting in Shenanigans having a beer.

When we were leaving, it felt as if we were leaving after a visit with the family.  "Stop by anytime." Soot said.  That summed up the Zimmers.

A couple of years later, I called Zim to see if he would be interested in being a part of a celebrity charity golf segment called "Beat the Pro."

It was a banner year for sports celebs.  We had tennis stars like Pete Sampras and Jim Courier take part.  Former Bucs coach Sam Wyche and QB Vinny Testaverde.  Professional golfers Paul Azinger, John Huston, Jim Dent, Dawn Coe-Jones, Colleen Walker and Dale Eggeling.

And then there was Zim.  He didn't hesitate to participate.  He loved the game, but had his frustrating moments.

"How am I going to compete with the likes of Azinger and these pros." he said.  I told him you’re not.  His reply, "I sure the hell hope not."

We met at a local public golf course to do the shoot.  We miked him up, played a few holes to warm up, talked baseball, and his golf game.

Then it came time to play the par 3.  The object of the charity was for the public to donate money to the American Cancer Society in exchange to beat the celebrity pro's shot.  The closest amateur would move on to the final round at Cheval.

I explained the program, and he said, "Do I get another shot if I miss the green!"  I told him we try and use the first shot, unless you hit in the condos where we just jump in the cart and run.

He laughed and then Z hit his shot 6 inches from the cup.  Almost a hole-in-one.  If I could bring you that smile on his face, it was classic.  He was so proud and so relieved.

We had to improvise that week, taking simply the closest to the hole, period.  No one came even close to beating Don.  In fact not one celebrity came close to beating Zim's shot.

He enjoyed the game.  He enjoyed that day as we did.

The only other time I would see Zim outside of a ballpark was at Tampa Bay Downs.  He loved the horses.  He was there early in the day to place his bets before heading over to the Trop or Spring Training with the Yankees.

As I understand it, Soot gave him a daily allowance to wager on the horses.

For me, I am so very thankful I was allowed to meet the Zimmers.  Genuine, delightful couple.

To Soot, the children and grandchildren-we share in your loss.  However, the memories will live on.


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