ST. PETERSBURG — It was the type of ceremony Don Zimmer would have loved.
There were his family and closest friends. There were the players and coaches he tried to mentor. Mostly, there were the fans, the people who adored him, who stopped him in the streets, who asked for a photo or an autograph, who felt he was one of them.
The baseball life of Zimmer, the Rays’ senior adviser, longtime major-league manager and sports icon who died Wednesday night at age 83, was celebrated Saturday afternoon before Tampa Bay’s game against the Seattle Mariners at Tropicana Field.
Players and coaches from the Rays and Mariners assembled along the base-lines and wore replicas of Zimmer’s No. 23 jersey with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Former managers Joe Torre, Jim Leyland, Tommy Lasorda and Lou Piniella, along with former first baseman Tino Martinez, were on hand.
There were video tributes from Rays players, former Rays pitcher James Shields, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and Yankees manager Joe Girardi.
Rays veteran Ben Zobrist led a Christian prayer. The Rays announced that, beginning with today’s game, their players would wear a commemorative patch (“ZIM’’) on their uniform sleeves.
After a solemn playing of bagpipes from center field, Zimmer’s granddaughter, Whitney Goldstein, a college softball coach, delivered a resounding first-pitch strike to his son, Tom, a scout with the San Francisco Giants.
“It was perfect,’’ Tom Zimmer said. “All of it. It was just perfect.’’
Zimmer’s widow, Soot, said she was overwhelmed by the outpouring.
“This has been something else,’’ she said. “He started on the ballfield. We got married on the ballfield. We ended up celebrating his life on the ballfield. I can’t think of a better way to go. It was a great life. No regrets. He loved every minute of it.’’
Based on the comments from Saturday’s ceremony, everyone loved Zimmer right back.
“To me, he was like a grandfather,’’ Shields said.
“If you couldn’t learn something from him, there’s definitely something wrong with you,’’ Jeter said.
“Zim always had a way of bringing out the best in you,’’ Rays third baseman Evan Longoria said.
It was a theme that resonated throughout Saturday’s ceremony, when the life and times of Zimmer were remembered, savored and celebrated. Whether you were a Hall of Famer or a fan in the upper deck, the feeling was similar.
“He was somebody you were glad to be around,’’ Zobrist said. “We’ll always be grateful for the time he gave us.’’