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Zimmer at heart of Rays' opening ceremony

ST. PETERSBURG -- Don Zimmer stole the show on Tuesday afternoon, when St. Petersburg's favorite adopted son threw out the first pitch prior to the Rays' season opener against the Orioles at Tropicana Field.

Zimmer, beginning his 10th season as a senior advisor for the Rays, was joined by his family -- wife Soot, son Tom, daughter-in-law Marian and grandsons Bo and Ron. The 82-year-old Zimmer is entering his 65th season in professional baseball. He has been a Major League coach, manager or advisor every year since 1971.

Tom turned out to be the designated arm for the occasion, but that did little to diminish the occasion. With his father standing next to him, Tom threw a strike to star third baseman Evan Longoria, who had the entire Rays team standing behind him.

After the ball was delivered, all of the players, coaches and staff members gathered on the mound to enjoy a special moment with Zimmer.

"I've been so lucky," Zimmer said. "You know, Lou Gehrig said, 'I'm the luckiest man in the world.' Well, if he's the luckiest man in the world, I'm the second luckiest."

When asked how special Tuesday was for him, Zimmer replied, "Very."

"Especially [with] the shape I'm in," said Zimmer, who has struggled with his health over the past couple of years. "It's unbelievable that I'm going for the 65th year. The Rays have been good to me."

The prelude to the Opening Day ceremonies began when ace lefty David Price left the home dugout and made his way down the right-field line, stopping to shake hands with security personnel en route to the bullpen to warm up for his start.

Shortly thereafter, the Orioles were introduced in advance of the home team. Up and down the line, the Rays enjoyed rousing applause from the sellout crowd. Closer Fernando Rodney, pitching coach Jim Hickey, manager Joe Maddon and Longoria were easily the recipients of the loudest ovations -- until Price, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner, was introduced.

Tampa Bay-area saxophonist B.K. Jackson, who is always a popular Tropicana Field performer, then played the national anthem before Zimmer and Co. went to the mound.

Price threw the game's first pitch promptly at 3:13 p.m. ET, delivering a strike to Orioles leadoff man Nick Markakis and the Rays' 2013 season was under way.

Bill Chastain is a reporter for
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