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.
“It wasn’t like, ‘There’s Jordan Zimmermann. He’s ahead of everybody else,’ ” Linzmeier says.
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 at Stevens Point, 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.”
On the field, Zimmermann kept working, kept getting better. He had played some summer ball, but the Auburndale High varsity team played only 15 or so games in a season, depending on how much snow fell. At Stevens Point, he could build his arm strength year-round. He applied the work ethic he learned on his grandparents’ farm. He added muscle to his legs. He hit the high 80s with his fastball by the end of his freshman season.