The close-knit family of people behind minor league baseball in Tacoma gathered at Cheney Stadium on Saturday to say farewell to one of their own.
Ron Zollo, also known as “the Z-Man” to his friends, joined the Tacoma franchise as assistant general manager in 1972 and spent 23 years with the organization, longer than any other employee in Tacoma baseball history.
Zollo died on New Year’s Eve at age 70.
At his memorial Saturday, friends and former associates remembered Zollo as a tough-talking, surly and opinionated man who nevertheless inspired loyal friendships and hilarious and tender moments with the minor league club, which went by several nicknames — Twins, Yankees, Tugs and Tigers — during his tenure.
“He was the crabbiest guy in the world, and he had the biggest heart in the world,” said Ron Anderson, a former director of marketing. “It was a unique mix.”
Zollo was originally hired by Stan Naccarato, the president and general manager of the Tacoma Triple-A franchise for 20 years. As assistant manager, Zollo was responsible for marketing and promotions and for many years was the in-stadium public address announcer.
One of his most creative and successful promotions was an event called “Used Car Night,” in which the club drove a used car (donated by a local dealer) onto the field between innings and raffled it off to a lucky ticket holder.
Sometimes the winner was not so lucky, said Frank Colarusso, the franchise’s general manager from 1992 to 1994 and one of Zollo’s closest friends.
“Some were on their last go-round,” he said. “Some were just great used cars. That ballpark was jammed when we did those car nights.”
Bob Christofferson, the groundskeeper at Cheney Stadium who was called up to Safeco Field in 2000, remembered one night when, as a joke, employees stole Naccarato’s keys and rolled his car out onto the field instead of the giveaway.
Zollo’s memorial was held at the Summit Club at Cheney Stadium. About 75 people attended, most of whom had worked with Zollo over the years. The event was structured like a baseball game, beginning with the national anthem and divided into “innings” for each of nine speakers.
Between the seventh and eighth innings, Zollo’s friends stood and sang “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” as photographs of Zollo rolled across the 50-foot video board in center field.
The bar at the Summit Club was open and stories flowed. Tears did not.
“There’s no crying in baseball,” said Leo Liebert, a former concessions manager at Cheney. “If Ron were here, he’d be the first to remind you of that.”
Rob Carson: 253-597-8693