Tampa Bay Trip – Day Three: Don Zimmer and Opening Day

My feelings as I mentally map this post are mixed. Today is the day I write the Opening Day post. My First Opening Day and Don Zimmer’s last. He passed away peacefully last night and the evening became full of Don Zimmer memories from all over baseball. My eyes would dry and then another tweet would come through with another story, Dave and Andy would call a play and tell a story, pictures were imagined, Zim with Longoria’s fiance Jaime and baby Elle, Zim on the golf course with Jackie Robinson, my eyes were in a constant state of damp. The post-game show was a Life and Times of Don Zimmer and when they played the interview with Joe Maddon tearing up I couldn’t hold back the sobs. At the end of the show they interviewed Longoria and the heartbreak in his voice rang like a ball squared up just right before sailing out of the park. He and Zim were very close as was the entire Rays organization. Zim was their senior baseball advisor for the last eleven years. This was his sixty-sixth season in baseball.

This morning I read many wonderful articles about this baseball icon and I would like to share a few before I get to recounting my experience on Opening Day.

Don Zimmer, a baseball icon who was one of us, dies at 83 – Tampa Bay Times

Rays advisor Don Zimmer, widely seen as a baseball treasure, dies – Tampa Bay Times

Statement from Don Zimmer’s Family – Tampa Bay Times

Don Zimmer Tributes – Tampa Bay Times

Don Zimmer simply loved baseball – ESPN (Autoplaying media)

Don Zimmer was baseball icon: had fans everywhere, even an unusual place – Arizona Daily Star

I obviously did not know Don Zimmer. I heard several people last night say they could imagine him smacking them upside the heads and telling them to get on with it and call the game/play the game write about the game so that is what I will now do. It was not lost on me last night that I was due to write about my first Opening Day which was also Don Zimmer’s last.

So the morning of Opening Day 2014 wasn’t separated from March 30 by even a wink of sleep. Was it excitement that kept me awake all night? The fact that I had a sixty-five pound dog with me in the double bed? Jet lag? Looking back I’m sure it was a combination of all of it.

I was laying in bed when I heard the first seagulls start screaming. I remember laying there, checking my phone , thinking I should stay in bed and rest since I hadn’t slept but it was Opening Day!

I made some lukewarm coffee before feeding Jayden. I decided I would take him out on my own since Manda wouldn’t be at my room until around 10:30. Jayden found his litter box just fine but then we couldn’t find the room again. We walked around for awhile, not having much luck. The kids weren’t in the pool yet which was too bad since that was a great sound source. Luckily a jogger came buy and I called out when I heard the footsteps and heavy breathing. He stopped to help and I told him what room I was in. I didn’t like the idea of giving a passerby my room number but when I had tried to call the hotel, I got no answer. What was I supposed to do?

“This must be horrible for you,” he said as he led us to the pool area.

“No one likes getting lost,” I said. Um. Wow. Too late I wished I had launched into this amazing experience that was happening because I went blind. That was such a long story and honestly when the sighted say things like that, it’s just their own fear coming out. It wasn’t that he was saying it was horrible for me, he was saying it would be horrible if it happened to him. He probably didn’t know that was what he meant, but that’s what he meant. but I’m getting way off topic.

I thanked him for his help. (At least he didn’t try to take my arm or Jayden’s harness) I decided I might as well get ready for the day. Manda was going to bring Egg McMuffins! I showered in the tiny bathroom. How good that hot water felt. It was very odd to be standing in the shower and hear seagulls outside the window. Wouldn’t that have been a scary scene in The Birds? Ooh ooh The Birds and Psycho mashup!

By the time Manda got to my room I was in pretty ugly shape. Starbucks instant coffee on an empty stomach and no sleep is a very bad combination. Oh and nerves. Gee I wonder what exacerbated those? Lukewarm coffee anyone? We can’t forget the nerves. I remember telling her that I was being a bitch and apologizing and her saying something like this is you being a bitch? It was all rather blurry at that point.

The game was starting at 4:10. I remember having to tell myself not to convert it to Arizona time. Davis and Butch were going to pick us up at the hotel at 1:00 I think. We wanted to get there when the gates opened. Why did we leave so early? I don’t remember.

Butch! He was the next friend for me to meet and I couldn’t wait! We talked quite a bit on Twitter.

After I ate my egg McMuffins I felt a little better. Manda had brought a blue beaded necklace and some blue bracelets for me to where. I dressed in jeans and one of my new Rays Tank tops. I had gotten my hair cut into a bob before leaving so it was quick and easy to style and the stylist had put this blue chalk stuff in my hair. I was ready!

When the guys got to the room I met butch and we all started to get ready to go. We took Jayden to his litter box, piled into the Ro To Trop Mobile and hit the road. As soon as the car began to move I could feel myself relax. All the preparation had come down to this and we were on our way!

Thanks to the Rays, my group had parking passes and tickets to the luxury suite the team had given me for the first three games. Back when we planned the trip, I didn’t know the opening series was a four game series, so I had only planned on going to the first three. Davis’ wife Tina had to work so she would be meeting us at the Trop.

Aside:

I’m listening to the pre-game show and they just replayed Joe Maddon’s interview from last night. It’s a rare 4:10 pm EST start today, a Thursday, and I’m writing about a game that began at 4:10 EST on March 31. some of this is getting weird. Awww Joe and Dave choked me up all over again and then I laughed when Dave echoed the sentiment I wrote above about getting on with it and writing the post.

End aside.

Davis dropped us off near gate 4. That was the gate closest to the suite and where we had planned to meet up with Dave Haller, the Rays Director of Communications, who had organized my red carpet treatment. He did a tremendous job! Thank you for everything, Dave!

When I got out of the car I heard upbeat music. Immediately I felt the celebratory energy. The weather was perfect and I was at the Trop! I was so happy to check in on Foursquare haha.

We were there before doors opened so we stood around and talked while I took it all in. I asked if there was one of those planes flying around dragging a banner. Those are unmistakeable even when they aren’t seen. The music continued. Every so often there was someone talking on a loud speaker and distant cheers. The party was at the main gate, not where we were, which was fine by me. There were people milling around but it wasn’t loud.

I heard cheering closer and was told the Fox Sports Florida girls were nearby. You should have heard it when they saw Jayden. How can I describe this? Ok you know when you’re watching college football and the broadcast comes back from commercial and they lead in with the cheerleaders crowding around the camera and cheering? It was that. The girls swarmed me and cooed and then I was taking a picture with them and then some guy came up and they were gone. Talk about surreal. I think I’m going to set up an Instagram account just to post all these photos.

Aside:

9-6 Marlins. Are the Rays coming back? I finally went back to working on this post as a distraction.

End aside.

Soon after a male voice introduced himself and said he was from a news station. Wha? I plastered a movie star smile on as he asked if he and his camera guy could follow me inside and up to the suite and then ask me a few Questions. Um, Sure? Haha!

Julie, when did I meet you? Before or after all this? Ok I was going to write when I met every single person but that will give me grey hairs so just know you were all incredibly important to me haha! (Julie tweeted me May 6 after the Rays win and reminded me how I met her. After the media guys walked away I heard someone say hi to Jayden. “Who knows Jayden?” I asked, and that’s how we met. As soon as I read her tweet it came back to me so I had to edit this post for memory’s sake. By the end of the trip, lots of people called out Jayden’s name, but Julie was the first!)

The newsman and camera guy walked away and soon after Dave Haller was there. Dave!!! He had my personalized jersey with him! I had known the Rays were going to give me a jersey but had completely forgotten. It has the Number 3 on the back for Evan Longoria and the name is the trip’s hashtag, #RoToTrop. Actually i found out later that it’s in all caps. #ROTOTROP. That is important in a future post. If a person didn’t read this post, they won’t get the joke. Bwah ha ha! Dave talked to us briefly and then said he would meet us inside the gate when doors opened. The newsman and camera guy were back not long after.

“Where’d you get that jersey?” the newsman asked. I explained. “Would you mind taking it off and putting it back on so we can film it?”

That really happened. It really did. I had put the jersey on unbuttoned on top of my tank top. I did as he asked so they could create their broadcast. I think the broadcast is online somewhere. I’ll try and get those details before I post this. Ok Heather to the rescue hours later. The segment is here. She said there are two links, and you have to click an arrow to get to mine. It’s so not blind friendly.

(9-6 Miami in the 8th)

Finally the gates opened! We went through the security check and the woman said she was calling ahead to my section to let them know a service dog was coming. I was aware of the camera crew behind me but I just tried to focus on walking into the Trop for the first time. Just after we walked in the doors I heard my name. It was Dave Haller and he was telling me someone was there waiting for me but I didn’t hear him.

“Who?”

Brandon Gomes.”

I don’t remember the sound I made but it was probably that sound you make in your throat when you are shocked . Then I was hugging him. My first Ray! I was laughing with happiness and I could hear people all around and then my friends wanted pictures so we posed and I got to keep touching him, haha! I wanted a picture with my phone so I could post on Facebook for my friends and Family. I bent over trying to hear my phone so I could bring up the camera and hand it off. I remember Brandon Gomes saying, “she’s pretty good with that thing.” *Squeal* I was no longer mentally thirty-five. I was fifteen meeting a player from my favorite baseball team. Was this really happening? All too soon I had to leave Mr. Gomes who I started calling “my lover”. I don’t know why hahaha! Maybe because I unabashedly kept touching him?

We had to go up in an elevator. Did you know they have elevator attendants? So cool! We got to the floor where the suite was and walked down a narrow hall. I suddenly had the fear that Jayden would do something really bad and it would be caught on camera. I was aware that everything i said to him was being recorded. Weird!

When we got to the suite Jayden turned right and we started exploring. On the wall where the door was, there was a sink. This was the back of the suite and there were bar tables with barstool chairs. There was a table with hotdogs and fixins and there were sodas and bottled waters. Towards the front of the suite, there were two rows of stadium seats. These couldn’t be accessed from the right side. The room was enclosed on three sides with the front being completely open to the field. Along the front row of seats was a handy shelf to set drinks. I made my way to the left side of the suite and there were two steps to go down to reach the front row of seats. I went down the steps and stood at the bottom, thinking about the fact that the field where my beloved team plays was right down there! The suite was along the left field line behind third base where Longoria plays and up a few levels. The Rays dugout is on the first base line so the sightlings could look into the dugout.

The newsman was there all of the sudden asking if he could interview me so my friends and I could enjoy the suite. thinking back on this, it’s still almost not believable. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen to me! I don’t remember what he asked me exactly. Something about how I became a Rays fan, how long I had been blind (“since she couldn’t see”), etc etc. I was instantly roasting under the light they shined in my face and I bumped the mic at one point while gesturing with my hands.

After they left I needed water. Someone went and got me a bottle and Manda was showing me the nice spot next to the first chair on the first row of seats. It was a perfect spot for Jayden. I put his mat down and had him settle there and I sat in the chair, taking off the jersey top so I could cool off. What a whirlwind!

I think Manda and I took Jayden to find the relieving area before the game started. Davis and Butch were busy running tickets down to other people who would be joining us in the suite. There was a nice fenced off area with grass for Jayden. Grass? Wow. Haha. He had also used a grassy patch near a tree back before we had gone into the Trop. He left his mark everywhere.

We made sure to be back inside for the festivities . They would be raising the 2013 Wild Card banner. I didn’t want to miss any of the Opening Day ceremony.

I got all settled into my seat with my jersey back on, my little radio and cowbell at the ready, Jayden wearing his Mutt Muffs and waited for everything to begin.

The first thing was that they did a bunch of video and audio highlights. It was so cool to hear things I had heard so many times at home coming through the speakers at Tropicana Field. The stadium rang with the clanking of cowbells. I wonder if I ever stopped smiling.

I can’t remember what made me decide to record a voice memo but I’m so glad I did. I got a recording of the National Anthems, both Oh Canada and the Star Spangled Banner. On the recording is the announcement of the entire Rays “staff” if you will. Right before the starting lineup, Don Zimmer was introduced and the place went wild. He was there down by the dugout in a golf cart, and as each player left the field the player stopped and talked to Zim. I am so grateful I was in the same building as a living legend.

If you would like to hear this voice memo, click here. I listened to it this morning and am totally embarrassed by how I sound but that is the sound of unbridled joy. Even though it makes me blush, I’m so glad I have it and I’m happy to share. Warning, the cowbells and screaming is quite loud haha! Listen at your own risk.

I had pointed to where I thought everything would be on the field and got confirmation from a sightling. As the game began I put on my radio and listened to Dave And Andy just like I would at home, my head turned toward where I heard the action go. I was in the zone, listening to my radio guys, listening to the barking sound effects from District K-9 when Price got a strike-out. I heard beer and ice cream calls in person that I always hear on the radio and I heard the whistling of Yunel Escobar at short. I was there. It was Opening Day and I was at Tropicana Field. I was the luckiest damn girl in the world.

If you managed to listen to that voice memo, you heard my friend Tina saying I was making her and Butch cry in the row behind me. I was full of good emotions and the music that played when the banner was raised was the soundtrack of my happiness. Until Evan Longoria came to bat, of course. There is nothing like hearing those electric violins loud and in person. I could feel the base in my heart as the song and man that started it all came to the plate. I can’t remember if he got a hit. I want to say he did but maybe that’s just the romantic in me.

One of the friends I got to meet in the suite that night was Aviatrixx (her Twitter name). She brought her three year-old daughter with her. She had asked me before I left Tucson what she and her daughter could bring for Jayden. I told her I trusted Nylabone and Goughnut products so she gave me a Romp and Chomp. This thing is so cool! It’s a Nylabone with a space inside to put what looks like a Slim Jim inside. It was the perfect gift for a dog who was bored at a baseball game! He loved it and there were enough refills for the rest of the games and some “O bones” as I started calling them when we got home. I need to order some refills for his birthday next month. Thank you, Aviatrixx!

Nothing else specific stands out about the game. R.A. Dickey pitched for the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rays won. I do remember it wasn’t a close game so it wasn’t tense. It was just plain old fun! My record for Rays games attended was now 1-3. It was my second David Price start. He is now 1-1 in games I’ve attended hehe..

When we got back to the hotel, everyone hung out for a bit while I fed and relieved Jayden. After they left I hung out on Twitter a bit, did a good foam roll session, called B, listened to my book and fell into a blessed sleep. I hope my next Opening Day is well rested!

(The Rays lost today’s game.)

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