When the Orioles’ 60-man player pool was announced in late June, left-handed pitcher Bruce Zimmermann wasn’t on the list. The 25-year-old Ellicott City resident was going to be added about a week into summer training.
But when Zimmermann went through his intake testing with the Orioles, he tested positive for Covid-19 and his addition to the pool was delayed by several weeks.
“Lately, I’ve been feeling 100 percent,” Zimmermann said in a video conference call on Friday. “Thankfully, throughout this whole process, even though I tested positive, I was pretty much all the way asymptomatic. The only one I had was I was congested for a couple of days the first week of it. Since then, I’ve been able to work out on my own and throw on my own.”
Zimmermann spent spring training with the Orioles and was going to be the starting pitcher on March 12 in Fort Myers against the Minnesota Twins.
He never got that start because spring training was halted three hours before that game because of the coronavirus. Zimmermann never dreamed that the pandemic would cause baseball to close down for 3 ½ months.
“I don’t know how many people could have predicted it could have gotten this bad,” he said.
Zimmermann is at the Bowie alternate site, trying to catch up from his late start.
“It’s been about a week since I rejoined the team in Bowie,” he said. “Practice has been going great. I’ve been throwing well off the mound. I’m pretty happy with how I feel going forward.”
It was worrisome to Zimmermann, who attended Loyola-Blakefield and began his college career at Towson before moving on to the University of Mount Olive in North Carolina. He had no clue that he had joined the coronavirus stats.
He felt healthy, had no fever or a loss of taste and smell.
Zimmermann, who’s been living with his parents, isolated himself because his father falls into the high-risk category.
“The biggest lesson is to not take anything for granted,” Zimmermann said.
“Baseball’s been a part of my life for 20 years. The most important thing that people are thinking about are their health and wellness. It’s definitely an interesting time. The thing I took away from it, my sister came home from New York City, where she lives, for a month.”
Besides bonding with his sister, he helped his father with chores around the house. Zimmermann redid the back deck for barbecuing. He also rediscovered reading and tried not to spend too much time on his phone or watching Netflix.
There was plenty of baseball, too. Zimmermann worked out with several players from the Orioles’ organization who live in the area.
“I was able to practice and even set up some live [batting practices] with under six people,” he said. “That was nice to play baseball in a way that wasn’t so professional, in a way, it was back to sandlot-style baseball, so the love of the game was really apparent.”
During his time in relative isolation, Zimmerman stayed in contact with Orioles director of pitching Chris Holt.
“Throwing by the trusty net by my high school,” Zimmermann said. He threw on a starter’s schedule — every five days and sent videos to the minor league pitching coaches.
Zimmermann understands the depth of the crisis, but he still wants to play.
“I don’t want to say disappointment because there’s so much going on around us besides baseball players,” he said.
“I want to get back to the game as quickly as possible. I was having a nice spring. I was probably throwing the best I ever have … the fact of the matter is, it’s all in a plan, and to trust it. It’s just the way it goes sometimes. I’m feeling just as good as I did in spring right now.
“I’m taking it day-by-day and trying to be ready when the Orioles need me.”
Zimmermann grew up an intense Orioles fan. After the Atlanta Braves drafted him in the fifth round in 2017 and traded him to the team of his youth, he was thrilled.
“They’re doing pretty well right now,” Zimmermann said. “As a Baltimore native, it’s been awesome to see this happen, see the rebuild come into fruition. I’m just really happy to be part of the 60-man because there are so many minor leaguers that don’t get that invite. I’m going to keep going out there and taking what I can, and just be ready for whenever that phone call is.
“I just want to see the team continue to do well, and I want to continue to focus on the day-to-day because I still have a few more starts to get built back up to six innings or so. I just want to focus on that and, hopefully the team does well, once I get that time, I get that call, hopefully, it’s this season, but if not, I’m just happy to be playing this season.”