Zimmer was friend to many, including Twins' Hattaway

  • Article by: PHIL MILLER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 6, 2014 - 12:48 AM

Don Zimmer might have been the only man alive to work in baseball longer than Twins clubhouse attendant Wayne Hattaway. So it’s not a huge surprise that Zim and Big Fella wore the same uniform at one point during their combined 128 years in the game.

They met 62 years ago.

“I was the batboy in Mobile [Ala.] in 1952, when he was in Double-A,” Hattaway said Thursday, a day after Zimmer’s death at 83 in Dunedin, Fla. “I was only with him one year, but he was a friend for the rest of his life.”

Hattaway, long known as Big Fella, has a photo of that Mobile team, and showed it to Zimmer about six years ago when the longtime manager and coach was in town with the Tampa Bay Rays. “I said, look at this, you went from 160 pounds [in his playing days] to about 300 — how’d you do that?” Hattaway joked with Zimmer. “He said, ‘More meal money now.’ ”

Hattaway’s 62 years in the game is just four short of Zimmer’s 66, though “that’s one record he can have,” he joked.

Zimmer had a 12-year major league career, then managed and coached for decades, and was always a friendly face when his teams met the Twins.

“He had some of the same interests I do — he liked to play the horses, play the dogs. If it was moving, he was betting,” former Twins manager Tom Kelly said. “So I’d see him at the track sometimes.”

Kelly said Zimmer was “always fun to be around. He loved to talk baseball, and you’d be foolish not to listen to someone who had so much experience. What a great ambassador for the game.”

He changed the game, too, Hattaway pointed out. Zimmer was beaned while playing for the St. Paul Saints in 1953 and nearly died. “Until he got hit, we were still wearing [caps] at the plate,” Hattaway said. “When that happened, right away they put protective [shields] in the hats, and later on we got helmets.”

The Twins held a moment of silence before Thursday’s game in Zimmer’s honor — a tribute that was much-deserved, manager Ron Gardenhire said, adding: “I had plenty of chances to talk to him, on baseball fields in a lot of different places. [He was] a good man, always had something nice to say. One of those guys you were lucky to have the opportunity to hang out with him for a little bit, because he was pretty cool.”

Pelfrey in limbo

Mike Pelfrey is back with the Twins this week, as he waits for an official diagnosis on his sore pitching elbow. The righthander, who is scheduled to be examined by Dr. James Andrews next Monday in Pensacola, Fla., said his rehab stint at Rochester convinced him that his pitching problems are physical, not mechanical.

“I was throwing 86-89 [mph] at Rochester,” he said. “That’s when I knew I needed to get this looked at.”

Pelfrey has been put on anti-inflammatory medication, but he said it’s not working; he still feels tingling in his fingers and soreness in his elbow. But he’s confident the problem can be treated. “It’s going to be all right,” he said.

Get going

Gardenhire reiterated Thursday that Oswaldo Arcia was simply watching his mammoth home run a night earlier to see whether it stayed fair, not to show up the Brewers. But he said he has warned his players in the past about being too impressed with themselves — mostly for their own safety.

“I’ve yelled at my guys from the dugout — ‘Run!’ ” Gardenhire said. “Because the other team is watching. … You want them to understand, don’t take it too far unless you want a baseball in your noggin.”

But Gardenhire said he has no problems with excitable ballplayers expressing themselves on the field. “I like watching Arcia play. I like watching [former Twins outfielder Carlos] Gomez play. I don’t mind a bit,” Gardenhire said. “The game has changed. It’s part of the game now.”

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