Walker, ‘the Don Zimmer of Lyndhurst,’ gets feted
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
Jim Walker was a young father in 1961, when he decided to volunteer as a coach in the Lyndhurst Little League.
Walker went on to coach SB Teaneck, which became a dynasty in the Little League. He then went on to coach in the Lyndhurst Babe Ruth League, eventually becoming the league president. He remained involved in Babe Ruth baseball in the town for 28 years.
Finally, 12 years ago, Walker moved on to become a volunteer assistant coach with the Lyndhurst High School varsity.
All told, that’s a half-century of volunteer service to the kids of Lyndhurst, coaching the sport he loves.
“I just loved the game,” said Walker, whose career as a volunteer coach was honored in a recent fundraising dinner, to help the Golden Bears get to take a trip to Florida this spring. “I’m definitely an oldschool baseball guy. I want to see kids run out ground balls and pop-ups all the time. I want them to play hard. But I love baseball and love volunteering my time. It’s been very rewarding.”
Walker was able to coach his three sons, Thomas, John and Brian, as well as his two grandsons, Brian and Michael, during his career. Walker unfortunately lost his son, Thomas, in an accident a decade ago.
“It’s a great thing to be able to share with my family,” Walker said. “It was an honor to coach my sons and grandsons. I have another grandson, Luke, who is in seventh grade and he’ll be coming up shortly. I don’t know if I have enough left to coach him. But I plan to be around if the Good Lord lets me. I’ve had a good life in baseball.”
Walker, now 75, still works full time for Costco Wholesale in Hackensack.
“I don’t want to retire, because if I did, I might fall apart,” Walker said. “I’m off on weekends and I work early in the morning, so I can come to practices and games in time.”
Walker has been with Costco, which also employed his late son Thomas, for 16 years.
“I don’t think I’ll ever retire,” he laughed.
Many of Walker’s former players returned for the dinner. People like Vin Auteri and Jeff Carroll spoke, as did Walker’s two surviving sons.
Lyndhurst athletic director and head baseball coach Frank “Butch” Servideo also spoke.
“I think when you think of 50 years, it shows how great his character is,” said Servideo, who recently lost his father to illness two weeks ago. “The only reason why he agreed to have the dinner was because it was going to help the current team go to Florida. He said he didn’t want anything. He asked me to promise him that the money could go to the trip.”
More than $2,000 was raised in honoring Walker.
“I didn’t need a plaque,” Walker said. “I have too many of those already and they collect dust. I didn’t want too much fanfare. I think it was great that they honored me. It was great to see some of my former players.”
Perhaps Walker’s biggest thrill came in 2008, when the Golden Bears won the NJSIAA Group I state baseball championship.
“That was a special time,” Walker said. “I have such great memories of that team. You know, it’s always nice to be on the winning end.”
“He has a good time with us,” said Servideo. “He coaches first base for us. We put him to work. He gets out there, still hitting fungoes, still teaching the kids ‘pepper.’ He thinks every kid should learn how to play pepper. He’s like our own Don Zimmer.”
Servideo was asked what it meant to have someone who dedicated 50 years of his life as a volunteer to Lyndhurst baseball.
“You don’t find that everywhere,” Servideo said. “You don’t find that kind of dedication. Everyone loves the man.”
And they all respect Walker, with many of the former players, now adults and parents of their own, calling Jim “Mr. Walker.”
“I still call him Mr. Walker,” Servideo said. “It was a great night, a great time and a nice way for us to honor him.”
Walker still has his pet peeves about the game.
“When kids have all different kinds of excuses, that really aggravated me,” Walker said. “When I first started, all kids wanted to do was play all the time. All they had to do was play hard and do things right and I was happy. The game has changed so much in 50 years.”
But Jim Walker is still part of the Lyndhurst baseball fabric, some 50 years after he started.
“I just hope I can keep going,” Walker said.
So does the rest of Lyndhurst, because people like Jim Walker are treasures to keep.