Cold-blooded: Zim to feel at home in opener

Native Midwesterner not daunted by chilly forecast for first Tigers start

Cold-blooded: Zim to feel at home in opener

MIAMI -- The Tigers followed the weather forecast for Detroit all week before heading home Thursday night. Jordan Zimmermann, who will make his debut for his new squad in the home opener Friday against the Yankees, didn't need an app.

"It's hard [not to follow it] when my wife's up there sending me pictures and it's 32 degrees," Zimmermann said Wednesday.

Zimmermann's family made the trip ahead of him to get things set up at their new home. When he headed north Wednesday night, it was his first time out of the Florida sunshine in about two months. But when Zimmermann takes the mound Friday, it'll be far from his first time pitching in wintry conditions.

"When I'm in Wisconsin all winter, I come down to Florida and 70 degrees feels like 100," Zimmermann said.

That's no joke. For Zimmermann, it's not just home, it's who he is. He doesn't flee to Florida or Arizona when the first snowflake falls. He embraces the cold.

Zimmermann's Midwestern upbringing played a major role in the pitcher he became, and it played a role in him becoming a Tiger. He will be the first starting pitcher to make his Tigers debut in the home opener since at least 1913, according to research at Baseball Reference, and he's a Midwesterner who should be fully in his element.

Zimmermann grew up in Auburndale, Wis., population 829 as of the 2000 census, about two hours north of Madison. He helped out on his grandparents' dairy farm growing up, milking cows and doing chores, rain or snow, cold or warm. Even as he played baseball, he helped on his uncle's farm all the way to high school.

The task that was the toughest for him?

"Getting up in the morning," Zimmermann said. "Seven days a week."

It was a day-in, day-out grind, and it made for long days. But it also formed the work ethic that pushed Zimmermann to achieve.

"That's the only thing I know," Zimmermann said. "That's what I've been doing my whole life. Work is something that everyone does up there. I just take care of my work and do what I have to do, just get ready every five days."

Zimmermann had to work for everything. He went from tiny Auburndale to the walk-on program down the road at Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He became a Division III All-American en route to the 2007 Draft, a second-round pick of the Nationals.

A lot of that work was put in amid the cold and snow.

"My Draft video, I think I was throwing in a blizzard," Zimmermann said. "I've pitched in snow. I've pitched in cold. I've pitched in 100-degree heat. I've pretty much seen it all."

Zimmermann fans side in the 1st

Zimmermann saw the big leagues on April 20, 2009 -- 22 months after he was drafted, a month shy of his 23rd birthday. Just when he seemingly had made it, a torn ligament in his elbow required Tommy John surgery, and he had to work to get it back.

Before the Nationals initiated their much-scrutinized program that limited Stephen Strasburg's innings upon his return from surgery, Zimmermann went through the same program with far less attention. The Nationals shut Zimmermann down at the end of August 2011 with 161 1/3 innings pitched; he took the ball every turn through the rotation for the next four years, going 58-32 with a 3.13 ERA.

In a free-agent market deep in pitching, Zimmermann projected as a workhorse, and the Tigers wanted one to slot behind Justin Verlander.

Zimmermann still lives in Wisconsin, right outside Auburndale, and he still loves winter. He doesn't work on the farm anymore, but he plows his driveway. Four months after having signed with the Tigers, he'll get up on a cold, chilly Michigan morning and go to work. He'll have the energy of a ballpark to warm him up.

"I'll be fine," Zimmermann said. "Once I get warmed up, I'll be good."

Jason Beck is a reporter for Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.