By DAN D'ADDONA
Jim Kaat has been a Zeeland icon for decades.
The former major league pitcher is the top athlete in the history of the city.
But that isn't what makes him an icon.
Kaat's loyalty to his hometown and contributions to it are what sets him apart.
Kaat was in town Tuesday after donating some of his memorabilia to the community.
"I mentioned to the historical society that eventually, I would not have room for my memorabilia when I sold my house in Florida. I wanted to donate it to the city," Kaat said. "I got my start there and it was a great community to be raised in. I don't want to forget that."
Kaat had some trophies and awards, including a few Gold Glove Awards that went on display at SportsQuest, a baseball and softball training facility at 3255 100th Ave., in Zeeland.
"I am quite humbled by the display they put together," Kaat said. "It is a pretty nice gesture."
He won 16 Gold Glove awards in his 25-year career. He was a three-time All-Star with 283 wins and a 3.45 earned run average.
"I kept the first (Gold Glove), the last one and the one from the Gold Glove Hall of Fame," Kaat said.
Kaat visited with Jack DeWitt, owner of SportsQuest and President and CEO of Request Foods, on Tuesday.
"Throughout his 25-year major league career, Jim brought honor to his hometown of Zeeland not only as a professional athlete, but as a person of humility and grace," DeWitt said.
DeWitt helped pilot the Jim Kaat Baseball Park, which opened in 2006 off of Quincy Street.
Kaat, whose sister still lives in Zeeland, was on hand for the groundbreaking of the facility as well as the grand opening, which he said was the greatest honor of all.
"My late wife phrased it pretty well," Kaat said. "She knew that this meant more to me than the Hall of Fame — and it does. If I ever get in the Hall of Fame, this would still mean more."
Kaat, who still broadcasts part time for the MLB Network, has been a finalist for the National Baseball Hall of Fame for years and came close to election several times, including in 2012.
"With the Veterans Committee, it is the fairest you have ever been. You are getting voted on by your peers and by the era," he said. "I just missed. I come up again in 2014. To me, that would be my last opportunity. As each election goes by, from the time I was first eligible in the late 1980s, I have been less and less interested. Of course, it would be a great honor."