In high school, Zimmerman was a standout football player. He was recruited out of Auburndale High School, primarily as a wide receiver. As a senior, Jordan broke the Wisconsin high school football single-game receiving yards record at Auburndale with 11 catches for 304 yards. He was also a standout on the school's baseball and basketball teams.
In Jordan's home environs in central Wisconsin, spring snow flurries are always a Doppler forecast away and “Bring Your Tractor to School Day’’ is an annual event on the school calendar.
He played on an Auburndale High School basketball team that made two state tournament appearances. And he showed enough talent as a wide receiver and safety that he considered playing both baseball and football at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
Jordan jumped higher in prospect status in the summer of 2006 when he led the Northwoods League in ERA (1.01) and strikeouts (92 in 80 innings) and ranked as the circuit's top prospect.
During the winter before 2008 spring training, Baseball America rated Jordan as 7th-best prospect in the Nationals' organization. Then, in the offseason before 2009 spring training, they had Zimmermann as the #1 prospect in the Nationals farm system.
In 2008, the Nationals named Zimmermann their Minor League Pitcher of the Year.
Jordan learns quickly, processing the information and then implementing it. He makes adjustments rapidly.
Jordan is pretty quiet, not drawing attention to himself. If he comes across as a tad boring to the populace in general, his teammates see a different side of him in the clubhouse. Very little gets past him, and he’s always quick to slip in a comment or an aside with a very dry sense of humor.
- Take County Highway P through Milladore and Blenker, passing dairy cattle and rows of corn and red gravel on the side of the road. The first sign is plain—Auburndale, Wisconsin: Population 738. The second sign welcomes you to Auburndale: Home of Major League Baseball Pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.
Sitting on a barstool at Kizzy and Sue’s on a Saturday evening, killing time between his shift at the manufacturing plant and his softball game, Aaron Linzmeier nurses a Miller Lite and considers the sheer mathematics of it. Behind Linzmeier, a No. 27 Washington Nationals jersey hangs on the wall, framed above the jukebox.
“How many Major League players are in the U.S.?” he asks. “Nobody is going to do it from here.”
Linzmeier, the best man at Zimmermann’s wedding, never imagined any of it would happen when he played shortstop behind Zimmermann at Auburndale High.
Zimmermann chooses to live in the place he grew up, this speck on the map smack dab in the middle of Wisconsin. He grew up milking cows on his grandparents’ farm, taking shelter from cold winter nights in open gyms, and going to a fish fry on Friday nights. The town shaped him, and he has not allowed the rest of the world to change him.
“About 750-some-odd people,” Zimmermann says. “No stop-and-go lights, a couple bars, a gas station and a railroad track.”
Zimmermann describes his home town with adoration. It is 2.3 miles on Main Street from one end of Auburndale to the other, from Jones Welding and Auto to Dave’s Service Center. The Auburndale Country Store scoops boastfully caloric ice cream; Kizzy and & Sue’s taps cold, domestic beer; and Stacey’s Cafe, which hangs framed pictures of farm equipment on the walls and sells homemade chocolate-chip cookies, three for a dollar.
Pastures stretch far enough in every direction to make the silos, barns and houses feel like islands in a sea. Pickups share roads with big-wheeled tractors and four-wheelers ridden by kids not old enough to drive.
Zimmermann built a house in Arpin, a neighboring township with a population of 303, about 10 minutes from his mother’s house. He dug a pond in his front yard and stocked it with bass.
“The guys that know him, he’s like the next guy going off to his job somewhere else and then coming home,” Linzmeier says. “Nothing changes when he gets back here. You wouldn’t know the difference.”
How many of the 738 people in Auburndale does Zimmermann know? “All of them,” he says. And they all know him but not because he is a celebrity. They have a sister who graduated in his class, a friend who bought tires from his father, a cousin who played ball with him.
“He’s not a superstar to us,” says Dave Homb, the owner of the Auburndale Country Store. “He’s just Jordan.”
Believe it or not, Zimmermann was not the first Auburndale kid to make it to professional sports. In the mid-1990s, an offensive tackle named Mark Tauscher graduated from Auburndale High, walked on at Wisconsin, made the Green Bay Packers and eventually won a Super Bowl.
About half of Auburndale farms still produce, and almost all of the remaining half contribute to farming in some way. Zimmermann’s mother’s parents, the Karls, owned a cattle farm. As a kid, he would stack hay in the barn, milk calves and climb all over the machinery. If he stayed past supper time, his mother would heat his dinner when he got home.
“He gets up on the mound and he just stares, the same expression on his face,” says Mark Brost, Zimmermann’s high school baseball coach. “That workman’s attitude. That’s how the community is. A lot of kids, they want to get out of high school and go on the field and start farming. He’s sort of got that determined personality.”
Zimmermann played catcher for his first two years of high school, and when he started pitching, he felt like he had no idea what he was doing. He was always the best player on the team, always all-conference in football and basketball, too. But scouts ignored Brost’s pleas for them to come watch him.
He landed at Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point after a few kids he played against convinced him he would make the baseball team. On the first day of practice, the freshman recruits gathered along the right field line. “Jordan was by far the shyest guy of them all,” says Tim Schlosser, a member of his recruiting class. “I don’t know if he even opened his mouth.”
Soon, though, his teammates learned about his wry humor and his knack for pranks. He and Schlosser lived on the same floor, and one afternoon a few freshmen packed into Zimmermann’s room. They hooked a $5 bill on a clear fishing line and dangled it down the street. For five hours, Zimmermann’s teammates cracked up as he jerked the money away from dumbstruck strangers.
The first time Schlosser visited Auburndale, Zimmermann took him partridge hunting. “We got to his Dad’s house and get in this old truck,” Schlosser says. “We’re driving down a gravel road. All of a sudden, he spots a bird on the side of the road in the bushes. I have no idea what he’s looking for. We’re on the road, so I say, ‘We can’t hunt here.’ He says, ‘No, you can shoot a shotgun on a gravel road.’ Total country-type stuff. It was so simple.”
Back when he was drafted, Zimmermann accepted a signing bonus worth roughly $500,000. He made only one major purchase, a fishing boat.
In 2012, Brost says, Zimmermann bought cleats and batting gloves for all the Little League teams in town. In 2013, Brost called him to tell him about a hot spot to catch catfish. Brost let slip that after a hiatus, he was coming back to coach Auburndale High. “Get an equipment list,” Zimmermann told him. “I’ll take care of you.” “That’s not why I’m calling,” Brost said. Zimmermann insisted. He told Brost to give him the list.
- Zimmermann feels a strong pull from Auburndale, not out of pressure but by preference. He considers his offseasons sacred. He hates the bustle of big cities, the oppressive traffic. In Auburndale, he can drive two miles without seeing another vehicle on the road, except maybe a rig hauling hay bales.
One sign on Brickle Avenue reads, “No snowmobiles on village streets or sidewalks.”“The first couple years, I was just like, ‘I want to go home,’ ” Zimmermann says. “This season is half over. I want to be home—just go fishing with my buddies or hang out back home. Everyone is going to local concerts and doing other stuff. I’d rather be going camping. And here I am, playing baseball every single day.”Last winter, Nationals reliever Craig Stammen attended Zimmermann’s wedding. He watched him interact with his friends—the inside jokes, the small-town jargon—and it reminded him of his own upbringing.
Stammen grew up in an Ohio hamlet named North Star, working at his family’s hardware store.“He’s not concerned with the materialistic things of the world,” Stammen says. “He’s fine with just hanging out with his buddies, having a couple beers and playing cards. That’s big-time for him.”Jordan's friends work on the farms or in mills around Auburndale. The financial disparity has made no difference. The friends he grew up with are his friends now. They get together and go ice fishing or hunting. They may drink a few beers and play cards. The table stakes are the same, and he still gets cranky when he loses five bucks in a poker game.“I feel like he hasn’t let this get him a big head,” Linzmeier says. “Whether it’s the town, his parents, his circle of friends, whatever, that is definitely from here. If he would live permanently in D.C. and come back here for like two days, that lifestyle might rub off on him.
Coming back here keeps him grounded.”Behind his ice cream counter at the Auburndale Country Store, Dave Homb keeps a dry-erase board, refreshed each morning with a new Thought for the Day. One recent afternoon, he had taken his grease marker and scribbled a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest achievement.” (Adam Kilgore - 7/17/13)
Jordan and wife Mandy were married December 31, 2012.
It was the last day of the 2014 regular season at Nationals Park and Jordan Zimmermann gave the fans a thrill during a 1-0 victory over the Marlins. He became the first pitcher in Nationals history to throw a no-hitter, and he did it with the help of a phenomenal diving catch by left fielder Steven Souza Jr.to end the game.Only two Marlins reached base.Justin Bourwalked with two outs in the fifth inning, while Garrett Jones struck out in the seventh inning, but reached base on a wild pitch. Not known as a strikeout pitcher, Zimmermann fanned 10 Marlins in the game.The last player to throw a no-hitter in franchise history was Expos righthander Dennis Martinez, who pitched a perfect game against the Dodgers on July 28, 1991.Zimmermann was dealing with shoulder soreness after getting hit by a line drive off the bat of Casey McGehee on Sept. 20, and he was pushed back a couple of days in order to pitch Sept. 28. At first, Zimmermann thought he was going to throw no more than 80 pitches. But manager Matt Williams was going to let Zimmermann stay in the game until he allowed a hit."We wanted to get him through five or six [innings]," Williams said. "But you can't deny him an opportunity to let something special like that happen in somebody's life. Once he got to the sixth inning, he was going until he gave one up."The rest seemed to do Zimmermann some good. He retired the first 14 hitters he faced before Bour walked. Zimmermann had a feeling something special was going to happen by the fifth inning."I looked up. There are still zeros on the board. I had really good control," Zimmermann said. "They were swinging early, being the last game, [and] that helped out a little bit. When you add those two things together, something good is going to happen." (Ladson - mlb.com - 9/28/14)After pitching a no-hitter on the last day of the 2014 regular season, Zimmermann said he would give outfielder Steven Souza Jr. anything he wanted. Souza made a spectacular diving catch to end the game against the Marlins and preserve the no-no. Souza revealed to MLB.com that Zimmermann gave him a Best Buy gift certificate. Souza declined to say how much the gift certificate was worth, but the present from Zimmermann helped Souza out big time. "I cannot disclose the amount," Souza said. "He gave a gift certificate to help me out for my house. It was very thoughtful. "
Baseball probably was Zimmermann's third sport, he says, at least in high school. He was a basketball guard on teams that went 49-1 during his junior and senior seasons, an amazing run, spoiled only when the Apaches, Zimmermann said, “choked” playing schools that probably had as many kids enrolled as Auburndale had people in its entire town census.
He was a two-way wizard on the football team, playing wide receiver and free safety. And until late in his sophomore baseball season at Auburndale, he was a catcher.
A few turns on the mound convinced his coach, and Zimmermann, he might want to stick with this pitching thought. ( email@example.com/ Feb. 2017 )
June 2007: The Nationals chose Zimmerman in the second round, out of the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point. He signed for a bonus of $495,000 with scout Steve Arnieri.
Jordan was the Nationals compensation pick for the loss of free agent outfielder Alfonso Soriano.
- February 15, 2013: Zimmermann and the Nats avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $5.35 million deal.
January 17, 2014: Jordan and the Nationals agreed on a two-year, $24 million contract, avoiding salary arbitration.
- November 28, 2015: Zimmermann and the Tigers agreed on a five-year, $110 million contract. Jordan joins Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez at the top of the Tigers rotation.