Washington Nationals starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann recently received some surprising, yet flattering, news in a phone call – his No. 23 American Legion Baseball Marshfield (Wis.) Blue Devils Post 54 jersey was going to be retired.
"I definitely didn't expect the phone call from Steiny (Michael Steinwagner, president of Marshfield American Legion Baseball Corporation), so it was a great honor, and I was extremely happy about it," Zimmermann said.
Zimmermann played two seasons for Post 54. During that time he helped lead the team to the 2004 Class AAA State Tournament and was one of 54 Legion Baseball players across Wisconsin to compete in the American Legion All-Star game at Miller Park – home of the Milwaukee Brewers – where he was named the most valuable player.
Zimmermann went on to play college baseball at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point and was drafted in the second round of the 2007 Major League Baseball draft by the Washington Nationals. He and Gary Varsho, who played Legion Baseball in the late 70s, are the only two former Post 54 players to have made it to the majors. Varsho played eight seasons in the major leagues with the Chicago Cubs, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds and Philadelphia Phillies. Zimmermann's jersey and Varsho's No. 1 jersey will be on display at Hackman Field during the 2013 Legion Baseball season.
"Jordan has had an outstanding baseball career, and he is a big supporter of the Post 54 Blue Devils," said Steinwagner, a Legion Baseball umpire for 30 years. "It was a pleasure to umpire behind home plate when he pitched; he was around the plate all the time. He had only two pitches then – the fastball and curveball. Now, he has one of the most wicked sliders in Major League Baseball."
But Zimmermann jokes that his pitching wasn't always in the strike zone. "I used to not throw as many strikes as I do now," said Zimmermann, whose Post 54 coach was Dale Varsho, brother of Gary. "That's the one thing I learned while playing Legion Baseball was to throw strikes – pound the strike zone, let the hitter get themselves out and not try to strike everyone out.
"It means a lot to have played Legion Baseball; it taught me how to compete, and I had a good time meeting kids from around the area."