BOSTON — Bruce Zimmermann’s major league debut last September at Camden Yards, pitching for his hometown Orioles in his hometown ballpark, was in an empty stadium.
His second start of 2021, which he’s referred to all spring as the “second debut,” will come when his large extended family and a lifetime’s worth of friends watch him pitch Saturday at the park they attended at fans.
In the meantime, “Debut 1.5″ on Sunday at Fenway Park was enough to let the Zimmermann family make up for missing out on last year’s special moment. It allowed the 26-year-old left-hander to cap off a week that began with him making his first Opening Day roster and enjoying his first Opening Day at a major league park with a starring role in the Orioles’ season-opening sweep in front of a closely-held audience, even if he wasn’t able to see them much.
“Overall, it was just a really, really great weekend,” he said. “I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it.”
Zimmermann’s parents, Bruce and Marcie, plus his sisters Theresa Cramer and Maggie Zimmermann, his brother-in-law Mark Cramer, and an aunt and uncle, simply couldn’t wait until he’s scheduled to pitch Saturday at Camden Yards before a crowd that will be capped at 11,000.
With a week’s notice, they made plans to spend Easter Sunday in Boston to watch Zimmermann, an Ellicott City native and Loyola Blakefield graduate, pick up his first major league victory with six innings of three-run ball in a dominant 11-3 win.
They enjoyed watching his start last September on their couch. Sunday, at what Bruce Sr. referred to as “baseball church,” was much better.
“Just to be here in the elements, with the fans, and to see him perform is something we just knew we could see eventually — we just didn’t know when it was going to happen. To be here, see it happen, is just fantastic.”
Zimmermann’s parents were driving to visit friends in West Virginia last Sunday when he called them to tell them he’d be in the starting rotation and would pitch this weekend in Boston. Marcie Zimmermann said the weather was poor and she was trying to focus on the road, but such was her excitement that she struggled to stay put.
They long to see him pitch at Camden Yards, lifelong Orioles fans that they are, but couldn’t miss the chance to make up for not being at the games in 2020. They had seats right behind the Orioles dugout Sunday, so they were able to see their son coolly stroll back in after his efficient innings.
“I didn’t know what to expect, except being just so nervous for him,” Marcie said. “He’s not nervous at all.”
Said Bruce Sr.: “He’s got nerves of steel, always has.”
Farther back behind home plate, Zimmermann’s sisters looked over at their parents’ sun-splashed seats and knew how much being there meant to them.
“They always want to see their kids succeed, and I think we all have in different ways,” Theresa Cramer said. “For Bruce, I think it’s a little bit of a different level. Obviously, they’re proud of all of us. But this is just something that brings them so much joy, to see their smiles.”
They were separated from each other, but knew how the experience would have been sitting with their parents. She said her mother is “like a popcorn kernel” and just explodes whenever Zimmermann records a strikeout. Sunday called for five explosions.
They’ll be easier to hear Saturday when he’s expected to face these Red Sox again at home. There were about a dozen Loyola Blakefield friends at Fenway, but many more and what Maggie called a “small army” of family members who have supported Zimmermann through the years will be there.
They all had to watch from afar in 2020, with the Zimmermann’s sister Maggie saying that all the hurdles on her brother’s career to that point made it “hilariously on-brand” to debut in a season where fans couldn’t be at the game.
The one positive, though, was that Zimmermann’s grandmother got to see it. Perhaps the biggest Orioles fan of the bunch, his grandmother Teresa was right there on the couch with Zimmermann’s parents during their in-game interview in his September debut.
She passed away in September, Maggie said, and the video of that moment and her joy in it has become a special part of the family’s memories.
“I think coming off of that, to see my parents in the wake of such loss, to just have such triumph, it’s this amazing thing,” Maggie Zimmermann said. “Knowing she’s watching this game from heaven with the best view of Fenway, it’s just so incredible for our family. A win for him is a win for all of us. We all carry that with such pride.”