ST. PETERSBURG -- As a son of Tampa who began his professional coaching career with the Rays, Marlins pitching coach Chuck Hernandez not only grew to knew Don Zimmer as a mentor, but as a close friend.
So after learning of Zimmer's passing during the middle of Wednesday's game the 53-year old Marlins assistant naturally took the news hard.
"He was a friend. He was a mentor to me," Hernandez said after the game before his voice trailed off and he took a moment to compose himself. "He fought a hard long fight as would be expected. He's going to be in a good place tonight. All my thoughts are with his family, [his wife] Soot and his son. Just a great guy. What an impact on so many people for so long. We're going to miss him."
Zimmer, 83, spent 66 years in the majors as a player, coach and manager and wore 14 different uniforms -- but none longer than the 11 seasons with the Rays. Hernandez spent six years in the minors with the Rays and then two more as the major league pitching coach in 2004 and 2005 when Zimmer had joined the organization after leaving the Yankees in 2003.
"So many memories," Hernandez said. "I go back to him as a kid, growing up in Tampa and going to the Tampa Greyhound track, one of his favorite places. And I was underage and in there and he's teaching me how to pick dog races. We did a lot of that. And then coaching wise -- especially my first year here with the Rays. He'd always sit right next to me on my left and so much knowledge would come out. I would just try to absorb as much as I could. We're going to miss him."
Marlins manager Mike Redmond never coached with Zimmer, but he respected him plenty.
"I was never on the same team with him or around him a ton other than the times I played against the Yankees and here," Redmond said. "But definitely all of our thoughts and prayers from the players, coaches, front office staff are with his family. Not just the Rays organization -- the Yankees, every organization, every person influenced by him throughout his life. Definitely a heavy heart for baseball. We lost a great man tonight."