Lima Time: Real, and spectacular.

The one thing that’s been missing in the Astros teams in the last few years is that one guy who isn’t afraid to be loud after losses.

I’m not talking about someone yelling and screaming at teammates in an effort to rally the troops. I’m talking about that guy goes into the clubhouse after a bad loss, blasts the stereo with some upbeat music, and forgets about everything with some ear-splitting tunes and a little dancing.

Jose Lima was that guy. He was eccentric, strange, fun-loving and loud. He wasn’t universally respected — opponents couldn’t stand the demonstrative antics on the mound — but to know him was to love him, and to laugh at him, and to laugh with him. That was Lima.

I don’t know anyone that called him Jose. He was simply Lima — and, once he started winning a flurry of games in ’99 — he became Lima Time. Loosely translated, Lima Time meant a good time, and that’s what you had when you spent even five minutes around the guy.

When I heard about his passing Sunday morning, I started Tweeting some of my fonder memories of Lima Time. As soon as I thought of the first one, the rest came rushing through as if they happened last week.

If you peered into his locker, you’d fine the standard fare — shoes, jerseys, pants, and, of course, his Dome Patrol outfit. For those of you not familiar with the old days, the Dome Patrol was equivalent to today’s Park Patrol — the spirited gang that runs around the field and throws stuff to the fans and gets everyone riled up for the game.

Lima wasn’t one to sit around and do nothing on the days he wasn’t pitching, and with the Dome Patrol, he found his niche. He loved people and appreciated the fan base. He loved being adored, and boy, was he. So on any given day when he was not pitching, he’d suit up in his Dome Patrol garb and get to work. The seats were far from the field at the old Astrodome, but still, Lima found a way to make that personal connection with the fans.

During the offseasons in the late 1990s, you could often find Lima hanging around up on the ninth floor of the Dome, where the front offices were located. He’d sometimes spend more than an hour up there, just visiting with folks and making general conversation. I think he liked gossiping with us office girls, and we loved having him around. Without getting too personal, we often tried to give him friendly advice on various topics involving his personal life. I still laugh when I picture the expression on his face when we explained to him what “common law” means in Texas.

I remember walking out of the elevator at the hotel in San Francisco in 2000 and seeing a beaming Lima standing there in the lobby, proudly showing off his brand new head of blond hair. He had it colored the night before, and on him, it wasn’t so much blond as it was canary yellow. He did it to end a losing streak, and upon returning home to then-Enron Field, he lost again. An hour later, he was in the center field restaurant, grooving on stage to some Lima Time salsa tunes. (He also didn’t take offense to friendly banter. Me, after the dye job: “You look ridiculous.” Lima: “Thank you, mama.”)

The year the Astros opened their ballpark, ESPN’s Jeremy Schaap brought his crew to Houston to tape a tour with Lima. They went everywhere — the laundry room, the video booth, the field and the bullpen. Sounds pretty standard, until you consider the bullpen stop took place during batting practice, and the workers at Ruggles, which at the time was the center field restaurant, brought everyone ice cream and carrot cake. Somewhere exists a tape of Schaap and Lima chowing down on carrot cake while baseballs are flying in all directions as the visiting team finished up their BP.

Lima was completely fluent in English, having learned the language on his own in the early ’90s. He was very easy to understand, which was great, because most of what he said, and how he said it, was hilarious.

Lima liked to get a little mud on his uniform before his games would start. “When I pitch,” he explained, “First, I have to dirty my pants.”

At an underwriter’s party for the wives gala, Lima, ever the performer, sauntered over to the piano, and soon, the night turned from a stuffy hoity-toity cocktail hour to another Lima Time concert. The pianist was playing a bunch of oldies, and that was no problem for Lima. Not only did he know the words to three Sinatra songs, he also knew every word to the Four Tops “I Can’t Help Myself” (you know the song — starts with “Sugar-Pie Honey Bunch.” Yea, that one).

Right as the team flights would take off, Lima would yell out something in Spanish that no one could understand. It was the same sentence every time, and it started with “Soobie,” as in Tony Eusebio, but after that, it was unintelligible. Nevertheless, it cracked everyone up and strangely, it gave me comfort that the plane was indeed going land safely.

On a particularly cold, rainy morning at Wrigley Field around 1999, a bunch of us sat huddled in the dugout trying to stay warm during batting practice. Lima scooted over and put his arms around me. “I don’t think we’re allowed to do that,” I said. “I don’t care. I’m %*$&*#& freezing,” he answered.

It was funny, but coming from Lima, it was hilarious. It comes as no surprise to me that following the news of his death, the official statements from the teams Lima played for and the teammates he played with talk more about his singing, dancing and zest for life (this video sums it up) than his on-the-field contributions. He was, as they say, good people. He squeezed more laughter and fun in his 37 years than most do in a lifetime. I’m just thankful I was there to share some of that laughter. He’ll be missed, by me, and by you, and by everyone who was lucky enough to  know him.

Those are my memories. What are yours?

 
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12 Comments

Joe Posnanski wrote a blog entry about Lima that had this quote:

?I?m not trying to make anybody else feel bad,? he would say. ?I?m only trying to make myself feel good.?

Well, Jose, you did a great job of making not only yourself but those around you and watching you feel good. Rest in peace, Lima Time.

Lima was the first and still the only big leaguer who signed an autograph for me in person. I know that Bagwell or Biggio would have done the same thing given the chance, but Lima went out of his way to create those chances. That was during his magical 1999 season, the summer before I left Houston for college out-of-state, and very possibly the last Astros game I saw in person. I treasured that old navy & gold Astros cap until repeated soakings in the rain caused Lima’s signature to bleed into nothing more than a black smudge on the underside of the brim. The last time I recall seeing him pitch at all was on television, cheering him on for the Dodgers in their 2004 NLDS; of course Los Angeles ultimately fell in that series, I remember being proud that Lima – our Lima – had done his part. I know he annoyed the tar out of his opponents, but very few players are remembered so vividly, and so fondly, by those who knew him best. Gone too soon, Lima. You will be sorely missed.

“The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” Prayers to his family.

I know its a roller coaster of emotions for you and all of Lima’s friends and family.
I’m just a big fan of Lima’s. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but I wanted to. “Believe it.”

http://stonebutch99.mlblogs.com

Thank you for sharing this. I was a big fan of Lima’s when he was in Detroit. His personality and antics made quite a few miserable summers of Tigers baseball bearable and I can’t believe he’s gone at 37.

R.I.P. José. Thanks for the memories. You’ll be missed in Detroit, and all over.

Back in the late 90’s, I was at a game with a buddy who was a friend of Lima’s (who wasn’t?). We went down to talk to him before the game along the first base rail. Several games later, I’m back sitting along the rail and Lima comes up out of the blue, calling me by name, asking how I’m doing and so on. (And I saw him do that to others.) I’ve never personally known another ball player to have that connection with fans. My condolences to his family.

Jose Lima was a “different flower, in God’s beautiful garden”
He loved, and was loved, he lived, and sang on this earth….
and now he sings in Heaven! What a guy, what a pitcher!

My favorite Lima story…has to be the time before a game during the 2000 season. Enron had only been open for a few months, it was a Sunday afternoon game about June, and Lima had gotten absolutely pounded the night before. I was down along the right field line during BP, hoping to snag a foul, taking pictures, just wandering around really, the stadium was still new to me.

Lima and the other pitchers were doing their running, jogging from the line out to center and back. There was a pack of kids hanging over the rail, holding out hats and balls and begging Lima for autographs every time he came back to the line. He kept waving and saying he’d be right back, then he’d turn and jog back out to center. After 3 or 4 times, he started to turn around again, then stopped, looked at the kids, held his finger up to his mouth as if saying, “Shh, don’t tell them” as he glanced back toward the rest of the pitchers, then came tip-toeing over to the rail, very dramatically and exaggerated, like in a cartoon, and the kids started going nuts. He smiled that big smile, then just climbed up and sat on the rail and started signing.

I remember thinking the kids pressing around him were going to push him backwards onto the field, there were no security guys, no nothing, the rest of the pitchers were still doing their laps. He told the kids not to push, that he’d sign for everybody, went through his routine of asking “What time is it?” and holding his hand to his ear as they yelled, “Lima time!”, making funny faces at them, and talking a mile a minute. I was about 10 rows away and got a little closer, took some photos which I wish I could find today. It was classic Lima, what struck me the most was how the guy could be in such a good mood and having such a good time after he’d gotten rocked the night before and the season was already going down the tubes fast, both for him and the team.

This went on for about 20 minutes. The ‘Stros BP ended, the players started coming off the field and the other team (Giants if I recall) started coming on. The crowd around Lima had dwindled, I remember we used to say that if you didn’t have his autograph you weren’t trying very hard, and a security guy had come out a few minutes before with the obvious intention of wrapping it up.

There was one more little girl, very shy, couldn’t have been more than 4 or 5, and her mother had given her a ball and was encouraging her to go up to Lima and get him to sign it. I remember she was wearing a bright yellow dress, very cute, I figured they’d been to church before the game. Lima saw her and held out his arms, and she came up to him very slowly, still not sure, looking back at her mom a couple steps up the aisle, then looking up to him. She finally got brave enough to get close enough to hand him the ball, and he signed it and handed it back, and said, “Do you like that?” Out of the blue, this little girl said, “I like your coat”, meaning his warmup jacket. Lima smiled, leaned back from her, made a surprised face, and said, “You do? Well, here, you can have it”. He stood up, took off the jacket, handed it to the little girl, then hopped back over the rail and headed toward the dugout with the security guy. Just like that, happened too fast to get a picture, though I and about 20 other folks who’d seen it broke into spontaneous applause, and Lima turned and waved at us, still smiling.

Rest in peace, Mr. Jose Lima, and thank you.

i remember him most for his casa ole commercials. they were so terrible, yet that tune was so darn catchy.

It’s been a few days now, I’ve really enjoyed reading other fans accounts. My only real memories of Jose are from TV and I believe seeing him once at a game. His memory will definitely be of a guy who came to the park excited to wear a uniform every day, pick his teammates up, and just enjoy it all. Mostly for me, I’ll just remember a competitor, a guy who never quit nor wanted to. His leadership in that department is probably what kept him in the game so long and it would be invaluable on any team today. You don’t come across guys like him very often and one thing is for sure, he will be missed by those around him. Thank you for giving him some coverage, Footer.

When I first heard the news I didn’t believe it. Now that I know it is true, I definitely don’t want to believe it. Jose Lima was the kind of guy you wanted for your relative or neighbor. A truly joyous person, who made a joyful noise! My memories of him are how kind he was to fans. He did not dwell on the negative, but rejoiced in the positive. The world is a sadder place without “Lima Time.”

RIP Jose, we will miss you.

When I first heard the news I didn’t believe it. Now that I know it is true, I definitely don’t want to believe it. Jose Lima was the kind of guy you wanted for your relative or neighbor. A truly joyous person, who made a joyful noise! My memories of him are how kind he was to fans. He did not dwell on the negative, but rejoiced in the positive. The world is a sadder place without “Lima Time.”

RIP Jose, we will miss you.

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