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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