By FRED GOODALL, AP Sports Writer
February 15, 2004
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) -- The six-minute drive to work impressed Don Zimmer as much as anything else on his first day with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
``I don't think you could have written a script any better at the age of 73 years old, to come home and have the job that I have and feel like you're wanted,'' Zimmer said Sunday, the first day of workouts for pitchers and catchers. ``It's a tremendous thing for me and my family.''
Zimmer was hired in January as a senior baseball advisor after spending the last eight seasons with the New York Yankees as manager Joe Torre's bench coach. Tampa Bay is the ninth major league club he's worked for as a coach or manager in 33 seasons.
Trading Yankee pinstripes for Devil Rays green may not seem like a logical move for someone who owns six World Series rings -- four as a coach with the Yankees and two as a player with the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers. But Zimmer couldn't wait to get out of New York because of a strained relationship with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner.
``People have asked me for the last 10 years, how do you hang on? I said: `As long as I can go in the clubhouse and enjoy it, I'll be here.' I left because I wasn't enjoying it no more. That didn't mean I wanted to quit or I was going home to retire. I came home ... and luckily the Devil Rays hired me. It couldn't be better for me,'' Zimmer said.
Zimmer's new job calls for being in uniform during spring training and for pregame practices at all regular season games at Tropicana Field, which is about seven miles from his Treasure Island home.
In addition, manager Lou Piniella has told him he can accompany the Devil Rays on the road any time he wants.
``He'll be invaluable, helping us evaluate and assess, and at the same time help in other areas,'' Piniella said.
``Our job is to get these guys to get better and get them ready. We've got a lot of people here in this camp who have got a lot of baseball knowledge, and Zim certainly has got as much or more than anybody else.''
Teams are prohibited from having more than six coaches on the field during the regular season, so Zimmer will watch games from the stands or the owner's box. He understandably will miss the interaction with players.
``It'll be strange because it's something I've never done before,'' Zimmer said. ``But I'll really get smart sitting up in the stands. I'll never make a mistake up there. If they bunt, that's the way it should be. If they don't bunt, they should have bunted. I can second-guess the heck out of everybody.''
Zimmer shares Piniella's optimism that the Devil Rays, who've never finished out of last place in the AL East, have a chance to be better this year. He likes the offseason moves the team made, adding experience and leadership to a young roster, and thinks the club will raise some eyebrows.
``I read the paper the other day where Lou went to some luncheon and said how good his club was. He went to the next luncheon and said they were even better than that. And by the time he went to the fourth one, he said `I think they'll win the world championship,''' Zimmer said.
``There's no doubt in my mind that this is the best club they've had since they've opened. There's competition here. There are going to be jobs to be won. I'm not the manager. I'm just an old broken down coach. But I do know this could be an exciting ballclub. And, it goes back to one thing. If you pitchhalfway decent, they're going to win more games than ever before.''