Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
We all have favorite players for one reason or another that wouldn't be a good reason for anyone else. A couple of weeks back, my friend Gregg (who comments now and then as "ganderson") suggested asking about players that we consider our favorites for unique and personal reasons. Pat Neshek because he collects baseball cards and blogs? Minor-leaguer Chris Cates because he's 5-foot-3 on a good day? Travis Hafner because he's from North Dakota?
This weekend's death of Jose Lima, at age 37, makes me want to ask that today.
Lima was a favorite in the Section 219 household, even though he never wore a Twins uniform and had already seen much better days by the time he became our guy.
Young219 was 12 years old and had pretty much discovered his baseball love the previous summer, in part (I think) because of a father-and-son trip to Cooperstown. After that, baseball became about more than how many of the food groups he could take in during the first five innings.
One night, through a friend of a friend, we bought tickets in the front row behind home plate at the Metrodome. The Twins were playing the Tigers, whom Lima had joined the previous season. He'd come into prominence with two excellent seasons at Houston in 1998 and 1999 -- and then lost whatever propelled those seasons. He was traded to Detroit in 2001 and, by 2002, had basically become the 13th pitcher on a 12-man staff for a Tigers team that finished 51 games under .500.
Yes, it was that bad.
Lima took up residence that night on a folding chair outside the Tigers dugout, where he sat with the ballboy and carried on running dialogue with anyone who wandered by. Cracked bats ended up in the stands as souvenirs and, at some point, Young219 threw the word "please" into his plea and ended up with a baseball.
Lima had two more good seasons after that -- one with the Royals and one with the Dodgers -- before finishing his major league career in 2006 -- a 9.87 ERA with the Mets.
Last summer, Lima showed up in a Sports Illustrated story, playing for an independent team called the Long Beach Armada. Phil Taylor wrote:
Root for Lima. He deserves it, if only because he is so relentlessly upbeat, embracing the small stage even as he yearns to return to the big one. "Everywhere I go it's Lima Time," he says. "Time to party, time to feel good. Doesn't matter if it's here or Dodger Stadium." He doesn't care that his clubhouse cubicle is marked by just a strip of athletic tape with the handwritten EL MAMBO LIMA or that he makes only about $2,000 a month.
Here's the rest of the story.
Young219, grown up enough that he's coming home today from Cannes, and I got a nice laugh and good memories from that story. We still have the baseball, although I'm not sure which is the Lima ball and which is the one I caught at Safeco a few years back.
Whatever, Jose Lima is/was/will always be our guy. Young219 tweeted a RIP from France.
OK, that's a longer story than I planned to tell. And the real reason for telling is ask for you to share your story about a favorite player of the Lima sort. Tony Batista was my other favorite, in part to tweak my friends who were (rightfully) so frustrated that the Twins tried to pass him off a third-base solution for part of the 2006 season.
I expect Gregg will write about old Twins Dave Goltz and Larry Hisle.
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