What you lack in talent can be made up with desire, hustle and giving 110 percent all the time. – Don Zimmer
Baseball legend Don Zimmer passed away today at age 83. His life and career are well-chronicled. He spent 66 years in professional baseball as a player, coach, manager and adviser. He was a live wire on the field and behind the scenes as well, but respected, admired and loved by anyone who followed the game.
The reason I’m choosing to acknowledge this on Cascadian Abroad is the flood of childhood memories that came back upon hearing about his passing. I started following the Chicago Cubs during the 1988 season, Zimmer’s first as manager of the team. The following season, he led the Cubs to the East Division championship. He was the zookeeper in a menagerie featuring Ryno, The Hawk and the Wild Thing.
I followed along on WGN, the superstation out of Chicago, as the Cubbies shocked the league. The magical run ended in the National League Championship Series as the Will Clark-led San Francisco Giants beat the Cubs in five games. Even though the season didn’t end with that (still) long-awaited championship, I was hooked.
A couple years later, I decided to embark on a souvenir-gathering journey. These were the days before the internet, but I’d found a list of the addresses for every Major League team at the library. I crafted a serious letter-writing operation, requesting souvenirs from each team.
Surprisingly, most teams replied within a couple weeks. Even the new expansion teams, the Florida Marlins and Colorado Rockies replied, despite having not yet played a game. Eventually all 28 teams responded with stickers, photos, postcards, letters… and I was awash in memorabilia and memories.
The Cubs responded with some stickers, a letter from the front office, a couple buttons… and an autographed picture of Don Zimmer. Whenever I hear Zimmer’s name mentioned, including the news of his passing today, that picture is the first image that pops in my mind. Today, that picture is in a photo album buried in a box in a storage unit in Salem, Oregon. In another box nearby is 28 teams worth of souvenirs… memories.
For me, it will always be a memory of the man they called “Popeye.”