Yesterday the baseball team received a shock with the news that Jose Lima had died in his sleep at the age of 37, apparently of a heart attack. An all-star pitcher, he played in the Major League 13 seasons. He only pitched for Los Angeles one year, 2004, but it was a memorable one. He pitched a five-hit shutout against the St. Louis Cardinals, the first Dodgers post-season win since 1988.
photo: Jon SooHoo / Dodgers
Jose was known for his huge personality as much for his playing ability. While he sometimes annoyed the opponents with his gestures and his antics, it was always "It's Lima Time" when he pitched for the Dodgers and the fans ate it up.
I wasn't around Los Angeles in 2004 so I missed Lima time with the Dodgers. But last year Jose was playing for Long Beach's Independent Golden League team, the Armada, and my friends Stacey, Kristin and I went to a game to see him. He was apparently hoping that someone would pick him up for another season in the majors.
He was more than approachable, signing baseballs and posing with Stacey for a photo.
Then he sung the National Anthem. It wasn't bad.
His pitching was erratic that night, but he still won me over with his child-like enthusiasm and his team spirit. He was always jumping up and down and always there - first in line - to congratulate a team mate who had scored.
It's always tough to see a ball player who has retired from the majors try to regain some of the old glory by playing with a semi-pro league. It's stuff that movies are made of, except in the movies, most of the time it's a happy ending and the player ends up playing one last game for the majors. That wasn't the case for Jose; he was never called up again and left the Armada after that year. But according to people who knew him, he moved on with a smile and with plans. He was on the verge of opening a youth basball camp in Pasadena; when it was announced at a Dodger game earlier this year we even discussed it with Stacey to see if perhaps her son Eric might want to go.
In one of life's great ironies, Jose showed up for a Dodger game last Friday night when they were playing the Tigers (he pitched for the Tigers during his career as well). Between two innings, the Dodgers big screen played a short tribute to Jose, showing clips of his playing career. After the tribute, the camera showed Jose sitting in the stands. He grinned, stood up and waved, and the crowd roared its appreciation.
It was Lima Time again, one last time.
This article on the Dodgers website talks about how some players remember Lima.
Thanks to Stacey and Kristin for sending me photos.