Three days ago I was talking to a group of young ball players, telling them about the time, some 10 years ago, when I was flying to Las Vegas.
Across from me sat a legend.
I knew he was such for two reasons. The first was the World Series champion ring he wore – the other was his incredibly calm demeanor. When you meet someone who is as calm as this man was, you KNOW they’ve seen a lot of battles – and they’ve seen the light at the end of them.
During the entire flight, for some odd reason, I couldn’t place this man’s name. I knew he was a Big League manager – but what was his name?
Yes, I could have leaned over and asked, “Hey, you look familiar. Did you manage an MLB team or something?”
But that would be embarrassing. You don’t do that to someone of this man’s stature. If you’re too forgetful to remember his name, don’t ask.
Whilst departing the plane, the man with the colossal ring walked ahead of me. I made sure I let him go first. Out of respect. Out of selfish reasons: I wanted to watch his walk.
As he made his way into the airport, I observed every detail of his stride.
I thought to myself, Yep. That’s him. That’s the exact walk of an MLB mangager going to the mound to remove a pitcher. You can’t fake that. He’s been there.
But what was his name?
Upon arriving at my hotel, his name hit me like a thunderclap.
He’s the manager who got into an altercation with Pedro Martinez, and got whirled through the air. He’s the manager who showed class and apologized, with tears in his eyes, for the role he played in it. He said he was sorry and meant it – it wasn’t just a public relations move.
Don Zimmer – that’s his name.
I got on the Internet and searched. Yep, that’s the guy who sat across from me. That’s him.
Years later, when I was a season-ticket holder with the Tampa Bay Rays, Don Zimmer was there, as an advisor.
On more than one occasion, I saw him behind home plate – and unlike the flight to Las Vegas, I always remembered his name and always called out to him.
Zimmer would turn to me, smile, wave and say hello.
Truly, he would.
This is not something a lot of Big Leaguers will do. They pass fans by with expressionless faces, hoping they don’t get asked to sign yet another autograph.
I never asked Don Zimmer for his autograph. To be in a position, more than once in my lifetime, to say hello to him, that was enough.
To have a chance to remember his name and let him know I knew who he was, that was enough.
Baseball lost a great man yesterday. Don Zimmer, age 83, the last remaining player from the original Brooklyn Dodgers.
Just watched a tribute to him.
This man epitomized what it is to be a “professional human being.” Not a professional baseball player or manager.
First and foremost – a professional human being.
That’s something all of us can become. Most people will not make it to the top in a profession.
But ALL of us can become professionals in how we live our lives. All of us can live our lives to the full – if we so choose.
Be a professional human being today – every day.
How do you do that?
Same way you do anything. You practice – and practice – and practice some more.
author of Theatre of the Mind