Rays call on Zimmer for first pitch

Rays call on Zimmer for first pitch

ST. PETERSBURG -- Don Zimmer doesn't like the spotlight, but on Sunday night, he was willing to make an exception.

The Rays' senior baseball advisor received a phone call around 2 p.m. ET on Sunday from principal owner Stu Sternberg, who asked Zimmer for a personal favor.

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"I was like, what can I possibly do for Stu Sternberg?" Zimmer said, of the unexpected request.

The Rays owner wanted Zimmer to toss out the ceremonial first pitch in Sunday night's Game 7 of the American League Championship Series. It was a favor that the shy but beloved Zimmer couldn't turn down.

"Truthfully, I don't like to do things like this," Zimmer said. "In fact, when [the Rays] had the first playoff game, they introduced the lineup and they wanted me to go out there and I said no ... but this is a little different."

And not just because of the personal request from Sternberg.

The Rays will take the field on Sunday night looking to extend the franchise's postseason appearance, and although Zimmer shies away from praise, manager Joe Maddon was more than willing to give Zimmer proper kudos.

"Zim is wonderful," Maddon said. "He's been a tremendous influence on all of us on a daily basis."

Perhaps no one was more thrilled than Zimmer's wife, Jean Soot, who cried when her husband called her with the news, and is expected to be in attendance for Sunday's game.

A 60-year baseball veteran, Zimmer will suit up in his Rays uniform -- also No. 60 -- for the first time this season when he takes the hill.

"I've got two bad shoulders," said the 77-year-old Zimmer, who usually sports a casual Rays' windbreaker at the games. "But [Sternberg] wanted me to do this and I said, 'Well, I'll try it.'"

As for whether he could be good luck for the Rays in the do-or-die contest, Zimmer wasn't sure.

"I'm not a superstitious guy," he said.

When asked if the Rays would perhaps rub Zimmer's head for luck, Maddon joked that he would prefer the Rays rub the baseball veteran's belly.

"I think that would be even more in tune to what's going on," Maddon said.

Zimmer -- who was named the Rays senior baseball advisor in January 2004 -- owns six World Series rings, including two as a player. He has been a part of 10 World Series Game 7s -- as a coach and a player.

Despite his storied past, Zimmer sat in the Rays' dugout Sunday afternoon and watched the pregame scene at Tropicana Field with a sense of wonderment.

"It's going to be pretty exciting in here, isn't it?" he said.

Sunday's historic game will start once Zimmer takes the mound and makes good on his favor. But one can't help but wonder what would have transpired if Sternberg had asked for Zimmer's pipes instead of his pitch.

"That would be a no," Zimmer said, squelching the idea of singing the national anthem. "Definitely a no."

Brittany Ghiroli is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.