Jaime Zamora knows almost nothing but the game many call America’s Pastime. The zeal in his heart for baseball has yet to leave him even at retirement age.
The Garden Oaks resident, who has been a ballplayer since he could pick up a bat, now channels that continued passion into mentoring young players at Waltrip High School. Zamora is entering his first season as a volunteer coach in the Rams’ baseball program under second-year head coach Richard Burriss.
“As long as my legs work and I can still swing a bat, I’ll keep doing it,” the 55-year-old Zamora said. “I love playing. I love watching. I can never get enough, and it’s one of those things that gets in your blood and is hard to get rid of.”
Last fall, Zamora retired from his job as a videographer for Houston television station KTRK, citing a desire to try new life experiences guided by his passion to give back.
After bouncing the idea of volunteer coaching off Waltrip band director Jesse Espinosa – who taught Zamora’s twin daughters at Waltrip – Zamora met with Burriss, who was happy to accept the help.
“I went to a school that’s very similar to Waltrip and came up with the idea to do something baseball-related to possibly help (Coach Burriss) run his practices more efficiently and possibly influence a kid or two on the finer points of the game and in life,” Zamora said. “This is about nourishment for the soul. That’s what has led me to this point.”
In and out of the lineup
Zamora was led to baseball at an early age. As the youngest of four boys growing up in Corpus Christi, the game was a way of life.
Out of the shadows of his brothers, Zamora became a star in his own right. He starred as a three-year letterman and all-district performer at Miller High School in Corpus Christi before playing two seasons at what is now the University of Texas at Brownsville.
Then, his journey took him away from baseball for a time.
Zamora said TV took over his life after he was accepted into the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio-Television-Film program. So he gave up baseball, moved to Austin and began working for KVUE before moving back to Houston in his early 20s to take a job offer from KTRK in 1988.
He recalled numerous memorable experiences from his time with the station, such as an Emmy Award-winning series titled, “The Children of The Dump.” He traveled to Nicaragua with reporter Art Rascon and a group of local rotarians that were trying to help young children that spent their days digging through piles of trash at the local dump in Managua. It was one of four Emmys Zamora received in his career.
“I was very proud that we were able to spotlight a need and help them make a difference,” he said of the series.
Zamora’s career has taken him to every country in Central America as well as Venezuela, Columbia, Bolivia, Russia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia and many parts of Europe.
“I’ve been very fortunate in my career. I’ve had the opportunity to go places and see things that I would’ve never imagined,” he said. “That’s one thing about the news business in a big market — you go to some interesting places.”
Through it all, his passion for baseball always glowed. But after Zamora’s move to Houston, several years passed before he had the opportunity to play again.
“I ran into some guys who played in a Mexican league on the east side at Mason Park. They got me back into it in my mid-to-late 20s,” he said.
From there, Zamora transitioned into the Men’s Senior Baseball League, the largest amateur baseball league in the country consisting mainly of former professionals and college players. He continues to play.
So over the last three decades, Zamora has continued to indulge his life’s passion.
“Finding someone with a true passion for baseball first and foremost, and who is willing to coach and spend time with the team, hasn’t been easy,” Burriss said. “For Jaime to volunteer, enjoy the game of baseball and bring what he does takes a huge load off my shoulders.”
The Rams are no stranger to baseball success, having secured at least a share of four consecutive district titles. Waltrip finished 16-7 last season, including 13-1 in District 24-5A play, before falling to Fort Bend Elkins in the first round of the UIL playoffs.
Fifteen seniors graduated from that team, which has endured coaching turnover as well. Burriss has a second new volunteer coach as well as a first-year junior varsity coach for the 2019 season.
For Zamora, coaching is like a foreign language, one he’s attempting to process on the fly.
“It’s a different philosophy,” Zamora said. “As a player you feed off emotion and intensity, and I’m learning that as coach you have to find a balance between being intense and having a tempered attitude so you can try to find a coaching moment.”
Zamora has plenty of talent to work with as the Rams look to build on last season. Among others, Waltrip will look to versatile junior Adolf Castillo to help lead the way along with senior first baseman Daniel Smidt, who finished last season hitting above .400. Burriss said other players who are key to the Rams’ success will be three-year letterman and utility man Benito Delagarza and senior infielder/pitcher Emmanuel Ortiz.
“Everybody’s got their own role to play,” Burriss said. “They just need to own their role, commit to it and run with it.”
The first few months on the job have been a transition for Zamora as he learns his role.
“I came in as a new player on a new team – just trying to watch, listen and learn,” he said. “I wasn’t sure how the kids would react to someone new trying to tell them what to do, because they’re pretty accomplished already.”
But Burriss said players at all levels have received Zamora with open arms and minds. Zamora even recounted a few instances in recent weeks when hitters asked his advice on tweaking their swings.
The Rams will soon put those lessons on display, starting their 2019 slate Feb. 19 with a 6 p.m. road game against Dayton High School. It’s the start of what Zamora hopes will end up being a life-changing experience.
“The first time a kid called me ‘Coach Z,’ it pretty much made my day,” he said. “I’m still a work in progress. But if at the end of the season, I made a difference in one kid’s life, that’s all I want. It makes the whole sacrifice worth it.”