'Lima Time' ended before its time

NEW YORK -- Many, perhaps, didn't warm up to Jose Lima and his "Lima Time," whether it was his gestures after striking out a batter or any of his other antics when he was having a good time.

You don't know what you were missing.

My Lima Time experience took place on a May night in 2001 after an Astros-Mets game at Shea Stadium. After wrestling for a spot to get a player to sign my baseball, I managed to call out to Lima, then with the Astros, in Spanish while other players walked to the team bus or their cars.

"Lima, firmame la pelota [Lima, sign the ball]!" I said.

Through the two locked fences, my hands managed to get the ball to him and we chatted for a few seconds. He joked around. I had heard that he loved singing, so I asked if this was true. "Claro que si [Yes, of course]," Lima said. He couldn't stay any longer because the bus had to leave, but I bet he would have if he didn't have to go that night.

On Friday afternoon, tears and hugs filled the room as family members and friends -- including Boston's David Ortiz, Robinson Cano and Tony Peña of the New York Yankees and artists Sergio Vargas and Shino Aguakate -- paid respect to Lima at the Coppola-Migliore funeral home. The wake was just blocks away from Citi Field, home of the Mets, the last team Lima pitched for in the majors, in 2006.

Many players on the Mets and the Philadelphia Phillies had planned to come to the service Thursday, but it was pushed back to Friday because the necessary paperwork to have the body flown to New York from Los Angeles was not complete.

"I don't have the words. I don't have words to express the great human being that Jose was. An extraordinary man who wasn't bothered by anything, wasn't fazed by anything. Everything was always good with him, always. It is a huge loss for me and my family," said Dorca Astacio, Lima's widow, who was with him when he died of a massive heart attack Sunday in Los Angeles at age 37.

Ortiz stood over Lima's open casket, which had an Aguilas Cibaeñas black baseball hat near the body. A saddened Big Papi would then walk away, seeing his friend for the last time.

"He was the best," Ortiz said outside the funeral home before returning to Boston for the evening's game. "He was my soul brother. May he rest in peace."

Shino Aguakate not only felt like he lost a person who he admired as a baseball player but also a fellow artist. He enjoyed a unique version of Lima Time, singing with Lima in Santiago, Dominican Republic, and in New York City as well.

"It's a double loss for us because we lost an admirer we had in baseball, and we lost a musician who was a person that always went up to the stage, always with us, at parties. I had the luck to share the stage with him and my band about five or six times in Santiago and here in New York, as well," Shino Aguakate told ESPN Deportes.

"He had the qualities to sing, to write, to dance and we're super, super hurt. I always told him to leave baseball and to form his band. That he was going to earn more or the same. And he would always laugh.

"Thanks to God we have that memory in our minds. He was a happy man. He was a hard worker with an incredible energy. Just finished seeing him there and I can't believe what happened. From now on when it's my chance to perform on stage, I'm going to see that man asking for his turn to go up on the stage to make people happy. He was born to make people happy."

Cano's Lima Time came at a younger age while watching his dad play against Lima in the Dominican Republic.

"One of the happiest men in the world. Never seen him sad. Always dancing. Everywhere he'd go, he liked to take the microphone and sing," Cano said. "I remember facing him in the Dominican Republic, too. He was fun to watch playing. Lima Time was really, really fun to watch."

Peña, the Yankees' bench coach, has struggled with Lima's death. Lima Time for Peña was catching Lima in winter ball with the Aguilas and getting the chance to manage him on the same team throughout the years.

"It's a loss that everyone in the Dominican is feeling that. Not only was Lima a baseball player, but Lima was also a charismatic person," Peña said a few feet away from where family members and friends were praying for Lima. "The person that made you laugh, the person who lifted you when you were down. He used to work hard in the game. ... But beyond that, he was a great personality. That's why in the Dominican everyone is in a state of mourning. Why? Because we've lost a great human being."

Somewhere in heaven, Lima Time lives on.

A version of this story appeared in Spanish on ESPNdeportes.com. Follow at @ESPNdeportes.