Nats pitcher Jordan Zimmermann must be some kind of throwback: he’s from a part of the country – central Wisconsin – that doesn’t usually produce major league pitchers (or major league anythings) and he’s vowed that, once the season is over, he’ll head back home: “where there’s not that much to do.” That’s for sure. Stevens Point, where Zimmermann went to college, is quintessentially small town America, a paper mill town of some 25,000 on the Wisconsin River that is, oddly, currently under water — and that suffers through winters that make what happens in northern Russia look tame.
Zimmermann’s most recent successful outing (a six inning three hitter), the Nats hope, is a sign that the young righty is about to arrive in the big leagues in a big way. That would be a boon for “the Point” – which brags about its college baseball team, the (ah . . .) “Pointers,” which has Zimmermann’s pic prominently displayed on their home page. And why not? Zimmermann is the biggest thing to happen to Central Wisconsin since the immortal Addie Joss migrated from bump-in-the-road Woodland (where his father was a cheezemaker) to the Cleveland Naps (predecessors to the Indians — but you knew that), where he compiled the second best ERA in MLB history. Oh, and hurled his way into the Hall of Fame.
Joss was an interesting guy: a 6-3 beanpole with a rising fastball, a 12-6 curve and what he called “a slow pitch” –- essentially a change-up. Joss was a real-deal Roy Hobbs, throwing pitches through tires and taking on traveling pros and striking them out in fields where stalks of corn had once stood. On October 2, 1908 Joss pitched his best game – a perfecto against another great, the Pale Hose’s Eddie Walsh. It was the first of two perfect games that Joss would pitch, both against the White Sox, the only time that has been done in baseball history.
Sadly, the Joss story does not have a happy ending –- the career of the Woodland, Wisconsin native was cut short when he was diagnosed with tubercular meningitis and his death, at the age of 31 shocked the baseball world. The first All Star game was played in his memory, with the proceeds dedicated to helping his family. Of course, fans of J-Zimm wince at such comparisons (considering the Joss legacy), but outside of being natives of northern Wisconsin, the two have this in common – a rising fastball, a good hook (perhaps j-Zimm should give up his very average slider) and a “slow pitch.” Nats fans can only hope that the two are alike in one other way: in 1907, at the age of 27, Joss had 27 wins to lead all of baseball.
Well, we can hope.