“Keep your eye on the ball.”
A San Diego cul-de-sac has been transformed into a concrete baseball diamond, home to the Zimmer family’s annual Thanksgiving game for about 22 years.
The instruction comes from the team’s oldest and feistiest player, 102-year-old Ann Sellaro.
But she’s not satisfied with acting as batting coach. Putting aside her walker, the great-grandmother steps up to the imaginary plate with a blue, plastic bat in hand.
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One, two, three swings at bright yellow wiffle balls and Sellaro strikes out. But for her family, the misses don’t detract from her baseball chops and a love of the game that helped inspire two of her great-grandsons to become Major League Baseball players.
"I taught them everything they know," Sellaro says.
Kyle and Bradley Zimmer, La Jolla High School graduates, were both first-round draft picks out of the University of San Francisco. Kyle now pitches for the Kansas City Royals, and Bradley plays center field for the Cleveland Indians.
But long before they were playing in the big leagues, their training began in a quiet La Jolla cul-de-sac. Sellaro was there dealing out advice “since the first time we picked up a bat, I think,” said Bradley.
“I think that was about two days after we started walking,” quipped Kyle. "It’s been a long time."
Back then, the Zimmers and their friends would keep the wiffle balls within easy reach. However, as they grew, the balls soon started flying across streets, over fences and into neighbor’s yards.
“We've had to extend the home run line,” said Eric Zimmer, the players’ dad. “It used to be the curb, and then it was the sidewalk, then it was the neighbor’s roof.”
The annual Thanksgiving game has become less competitive with fewer rules, but their favorite part remains the same.
“Anytime you can say you have a grandma who's 102 years old and showing you how to hit a wiffle ball in the backyard, it's pretty special,” said Bradley. “So having her down here has been awesome. It's something that we really cherish and look forward to every year."
Sellaro used to travel long distances to watch her great-grandsons play, but as traveling becomes harder, she shows her support by watching their games on TV or online.
In person, though, the batting coach instincts kick back in.
“Keep your eye on the ball,” she says, pointing at Kyle. “And that goes for you, too.”