ST. PETERSBURG — Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon has vivid memories of Don Zimmer, both professional and personal.
McClendon was an outfielder on the 1989 Chicago Cubs when they won the NL East with Zimmer as their unorthodox manager. The two men remained close, and when the Mariners arrived in the Bay area this week, McClendon expected to go to the horse track with Zimmer, who died Wednesday evening at age 83.
“It was a heck of a ride in ’89,’’ McClendon said before Friday’s matchup against the Rays. “Zim did it his way and didn’t care what anybody else thought. Zim was an institution. Someone was saying he was an adviser for Tampa Bay, and that’s true, but he was a mentor for a lot of us. I was proud he was my skipper, and I learned a lot from him.’’
Rays manager Joe Maddon said he’s looking forward to today’s memorial service for Zimmer at Tropicana Field before the 4:10 p.m. game.
“From what I understand, it’s the only thing the family is going to do, which I totally understand from Zim’s perspective,’’ Maddon said. “It all makes sense. Here’s a guy who got married at home plate, so he passes away and there’s one little event at the ballpark and that’s enough — everyone go back to their lives. I kind of dig it.’’
Maddon couldn’t stop grinning as he detailed his efforts to talk Zimmer into opening a Twitter account, only to meet resistance from an old-school icon who spent 66 years in baseball.
For Kevin Kiermaier, the third time looks like a charm.
The 24-year-old rookie outfielder has no intentions of returning to Triple-A Durham, like he did during two brief call-ups earlier this season.
Selected in the 31st round of the 2010 amateur draft, Kiermaier batted .379 in his first 12 games with the Rays while displaying a solid glove and arm.
“It’s nice to get some consistent at-bats ... I’m feeling good up there,’’ said Kiermaier, who was hitting .305 at Durham. “It’s a good feeling knowing I’ll be here for more than 72 hours at a time.’’
Maddon has been impressed with Kiermaier, a left-handed batter who has been wearing out right-handed pitchers.
“He’s really made his mark and taken advantage of his opportunity,’’ Maddon said. “He plays with a tremendous intensity any fan would love to watch. The guy loves to play.’’
Dealing with adversity
The Rays are still trying to come to terms with a prolonged slump that plunged them to the bottom of the AL East standings with the majors worst record.
“It just happened so fast,’’ said Alex Cobb, slated to pitch today against the Mariners. “The rut we’re in happened so quickly. We had a great spring training and then, boom, this happened.’’
Maddon is eager to see whether the Rays can maintain poise during hard times.
“Everybody looks good when things are going well,’’ Maddon said, “but I love the person or group who looks good when things aren’t going so good. The group that sticks together, the group that doesn’t start pointing fingers. There’s a lot of lessons to be learned right now.’’
Bucs Pro Bowl DT Gerald McCoy attended the game. ...A fourth-inning sacrifice fly by Rays C Jose Molina ended his streak of 100 at-bats without an RBI. ...Ryan Hanigan (hamstring) will catch Jeremy Hellickson (elbow) tonight as they both rehab for Single-A Charlotte at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa.