Jose Lima was 37 years young when the lord decided he needed him in relief up above.
When he pitched it was "Lima Time."
An apparent heart attack took an effervescent soul full of life from among us at a time we need more people like him. Yes he pitched in the Major Leagues and for a few seasons was a big time pitcher but his statistics don't do justice to a man who cared about everyone. He genuinly cared about people. He was not all about himself as his antics on the mound might have led one to believe.
His fist pumps and talking to himself on the mound upset the sensibilities of baseball traditionalists that frown on such things. Lima was not a fake. When he celebrated on the mound it was pure emotion. It was not directed at opponents. He would strike a guy out in a key situation, pump his fists, talk awhile on the mound then be willing to shake hands with anyone near him, including the strike out victim.
His last name was pronounced LEE MA, but I once joked with him that there was a town in northern Ohio with the same name, Lima. He knew better but took a map and showed teammates that we named a city after him.."Look Leema Ohio, they like me so much,"
I doubt that he ever got closer to Lima than Toledo for whom he pitched in the International League as a Detroit Tiger farmhand. Yet, everytime I saw him after that he'd ask me, "How is my town."
Jose would talk to anybody, anytime, anywhere and you got the impression he really cared what you thought.
I recall waiting outside the Houston Astros clubhouse to get word on a player that was taken to the hospital. I was sitting there by myself just waiting so I could be the first to the wire as a member SportsTicker. Lima came out of the clubhouse and sat down with me and just had a conversation. He talked about his son Jose Jr and my daughter, Hally. We compared notes on discipline and how they would try to play us. He was much deeper than people thought. The man truly cared.
Chis Collins has worked in the visiting clubhouse for many years, cleaning cleats, washing uniforms, running errands; all the real work thankless jobs that many players take for granted, not Lima.
"He was a great guy," Collins said. "He always asked about you. He was fun. He played his music loud. He would go out of his way to take care of you."
He just loved life. If anyone could live a full life in just the 37 years he was given, Lima could.
A couple nights after Lima gave up the longest home run in Great American Ball Park history to Adam Dunn, he said, "I hope he remembers it and remember who he hit it off of. It had to be off a good pitcher. I tip my cap to him."
He was playing his recording of himself singing salsa music in the clubhouse when I approached. I had a CD from spring training in Sarasota. Reds PR director, Rob Butcher and his mother, father and sister, manager Dave Miley and his wife, Marty Brennaman, Enquirer writer John Fay and his wife Laura, Mark Berry and I went out to sing karaoke at the Banana Factory near the Sarasota Bradenton airport. Former Oakland Henry Lawrence, who lives there, was also in the crowd.
The karaoke host made a recording and handed it to me. I burned a few copies.
I told Lima, jokingly that I would trade a copy for one of his salsa CD's. He agreed. I have it somewhere at home.
It is time to bring him back to life if only in my mind's eye. I know heaven is a much livelier place today.