I am no longer blogging here at Little Nuances, but I would love for you to join me on my author website www.leewarren.info.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Jose Lima Dies; the Baseball World Mourns

I slid into my seat in the press box at Rosenblatt Stadium yesterday (home of the Triple-A Omaha Royals – an affiliate of the Kansas City Royals) and opened a web browser. I couldn’t believe what I saw.

Jose Lima, the former major league pitcher who played for Kansas City in 2003 and 2005, was dead at the age of 37 – apparently from a heart attack. I’m 43, so imagine what ran through my mind.
I wrote a story about Lima’s death from a local perspective (here’s a link if you are interested in reading it) and then I reflected on what I knew about Lima.

We’ve all seen professional athletes who have dogged it. They didn’t run hard. They weren’t mentally engaged. They didn’t even seem like they cared to be on the field.

As sports fans, when we plop down $10.00 for parking, $27.00 for a ticket and $14.00 for food, we hope to see our team win. But at the very least, we demand that they give maximum effort. Anything less is an insult to us.

As a sportswriter, I’ve seen apathetic athletes and was thankful I wasn’t assigned to write about them. I’ve also seen athletes who are fans at heart and they inspired me.

In 2005, I was assigned a couple of feature articles about guys who played for the Kansas City Royals, so I was in the Royals locker room. As I waited to conduct the interviews, I saw Jose Lima gathered around with with some of his teammates before a game. Lima had an iPod strapped to one of his arms and music blared from his ear buds. He sang and danced and laughed and all of that Lima spirit spilled over onto his teammates.

He played the game of baseball the same way. He went all out, all of the time and he had a blast doing it. He had some great years – he won 21 games for the Houston Astros in 1999 – and he had some rough years. But his love for the game and his respect for the fans was always evident. At times, he probably had too much self belief, but if you followed his career, you knew it didn’t come from a place of conceit.

He came up with a phrase to describe the days he pitched. “It’s Lima Time,” he would say to anybody within ear shot.

As he retired hitters, he would pound his chest, pump his fist, contort his mouth into all sorts of shapes and he would laugh. It was Lima Time and he was going to enjoy it. When he wasn’t on the mound, he would stand on the steps of the dugout and wave a towel every time his team did something well. Either way, he was having the time of his life and it spilled over onto you as a fan.

Lima played 13 seasons in the major leagues – the last of which was 2006. But that doesn’t mean he quit playing baseball. He kept playing in independent leagues, even when his phone stopped ringing with major league offers.

In 2009, while pitching in yet another independent league, he gave reporters this gem of an interview, reminding me – and maybe you –that it’s safe to be a sports fan because athletes like Lima are fans too:


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