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June 05. 2014 4:44AM

From May 27, 2002 -- A Zimmer of hope: Windham dedicates field to former Sox manager

WINDHAM -- When New York Yankees bench coach Don Zimmer headed out the door of his daughter's house here yesterday morning, he had no idea what was in store for him.

He thought he was on his way to attend a small dedication ceremony at a nearby baseball field.

"My daughter lives about a mile down the road," Zimmer told a crowd of hundreds who turned out for the event at Griffin Park.

"Just as we were getting ready to leave, a police officer in town here, Scott, was coming down the driveway. I thought he was coming to arrest me. But he was coming to give me an escort to the field.

"I thought there would only be about 25 people or so here today and as we got closer to the field I saw there were cars lined up and down the road. I couldn't believe it," he said.

Zimmer, 72, who has donated thousands of dollars, including sports memorabilia, to the Windham Baseball Softball League, was honored by the town.

One of the three new Little League and softball fields at the 37-acre Griffin Park was named the "Don Zimmer Field."

Zimmer, riding in a golf cart, was escorted by the Salem High School Marching Band to a field located at the rear of the park. Waiting there was a crowd of townspeople, as well as state and local officials who gathered to honor him.

To Zimmer's surprise, three old friends were also waiting. "When Don came around the dugout, he nearly bumped into Joe (Torre)," said Windham Baseball Softball League President Charlie McMahon. Torre is manager of the New York Yankees. "You should've seen the look on Don's face. He was totally surprised. He wasn't expecting it at all."

Zimmer, a former Red Sox manager, also wasn't expecting to see former Red Sox player Rico Petrocelli and Yankees pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre.

"We really wanted to do something special," McMahon said. "We didn't want to just do a run of the mill throw-a-ball and you're-outta-here kind of event. Don had no idea those guys would be there. They made it a really special day."

State Senate President Arthur Klemm, R-Windham, read a dedication to Zimmer that he signed along with members of the board of selectmen.

"I would like to publicly honor and recognize Don Zimmer," Klemm said, "this is a great day for the town of Windham. He is the best baseball friend Windham ever had."

The Windham Baseball Softball League unveiled a granite monument set with a bronze plaque bearing a picture of Zimmer. The monument will be placed at the field named in his honor.

A second wall plaque, modeled to look like a plaque at the Hall of Fame, was presented to Zimmer and family to take to their Florida home.

"He is our Hall of Fame," McMahon said. "He's really done a lot for the town."

Zimmer told the crowd he played ball in the streets when he was growing up in Cinncinati, Ohio, and dreamed of being a baseball player.

"Stop and think about what you have here," Zimmer said about the new fields. "And keep going with it. There is still a lot of work to be done here, but you have lots of help."

Zimmer also thanked state representative Mary Griffin, who along with her husband Andy, sold the 37-acre parcel of land to the town several years ago at a reduced cost.

Zimmer was surrounded by family, including his wife of 50 years, Jean "Soot" Zimmer, his daughter, Donna Mollica -- an official of the Windham Baseball/Softball League -- and many grandchildren during yesterday's ceremony.

He became tearful as he thanked the crowd and embraced his daughter.

"I'm fat and old and weigh 230 pounds," Zimmer joked. "But my daughter, she weighs about 80 pounds because she's always running around doing stuff. So many people worked to make this happen. That's what makes this place special."

McMahon said the league is hoping to raise money to complete the rest of the park. Plans include a concession stand and soccer fields.

Griffin said she was delighted with yesterday's ceremony and turnout.

"My husband has been gone for five years now," Griffin said. "He bought this land with his father in 1926. We sold it at a reduced price to the town because it was our dream to keep it as open land for the townspeople and the kids in the community. I am very happy today. I'm so thrilled. We had a dream and we got it done."


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