ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Baltimore native Bruce Zimmermann didn’t get the chance to surprise family and friends with confirmation that he’s starting Monday’s home opener. Word already spread via social media.
“Honestly, most of them heard it before I could even tell them,” he said this morning. “I got the news and then went out to practice for the day and came back, and my phone had already started blowing up. I called my parents, called my agent, stuff like that. It was pretty awesome, very grateful for the opportunity and they’re all looking for it as much as I am, to be honest.”
Zimmermann, acquired from the Braves as part of the Kevin Gausman/Darren O’Day deal in 2018, said he was at a loss for words when told about his assignment.
“Obviously, I was hoping to get in the rotation and whatnot, but to be able to fall into that home opener, it’s a dream come true, to be honest,” he said.
The atmosphere will be electric compared to Zimmermann’s debut in Game 2 of a Sept. 17 doubleheader against the Rays, when fans weren’t allowed through the gates due to the pandemic. Family and friends were permitted inside last summer during the period of limited capacity.
“I really can’t put into words how excited I am for the opportunity,” he said.
“The debut will always be the debut, nothing will change that. I still have fond, fond memories and I’ll never forget that, but this is as much of a secondary debut as I could ever ask for in that regard. Definitely will be right next to the debut in the memory category for sure.”
Attending home openers wasn’t a tradition for Zimmermann, who said he only saw one or two growing up in the area. He’d watch on television as players ran down the orange carpet from the bullpen area.
“I went to one probably most recently in ’17 right before I got drafted,” he said.
“Just to be there is an honor,” he said, “but to be the starter on that day, it’s going to be … just have to zone everything out as soon as I get to the ballpark. But I really want to take the time to enjoy every moment, but then when I need to focus, I’ll focus on the game and get ready to go.”
Get ready for a moment that he imagined right after the Orioles traded for him.
“It’s hard not to,” he said. “Whether initial opening day or home opener, it really doesn’t matter to me. Either way, they’re both incredibly special to me.
“When I got traded to the Orioles, it was definitely kind of a bucket list thing to hopefully be able to accomplish. The fact that it happened so quickly, I’m very, very excited and blessed and ready to go out there and give the Orioles’ faithful a W on opening day.”
Zimmermann estimated that he’ll need a little more than a dozen tickets to accommodate family and extended family.
“All the friends and family friends and people I played for and played with growing up in Baltimore and whatnot, it’s going to be a lot of people who are coming out and reaching out,” he said. “Hopefully, I can say thank you to each of them for being there, but it’s quite a great amount of people coming, so I’m excited.”
Zimmermann began last season as the No. 3 starter. Catcher Anthony Bemboom broke camp with a team this week for the first time at 32.
“It was great, it was fantastic,” Bemboom said. “Being this is my 11th professional year and first opening day roster – I was on the taxi squad for the past two – this is great to be active and part of it, so I’m excited.”
Bemboom beat out Jacob Nottingham and Beau Taylor, the latter placed on the taxi squad.
“It was good,” Bemboom said. “I think we all helped each other, but we all pushed each other on a daily basis. It was a good environment every day. Me, Beau and Jacob all pushed each other, and we all kind of leaned on Robby (Robinson Chirinos), too, with a lot of the stuff he brought with his experience.”
Mike Baumann said he let out “a big sigh of relief” when told that he’d made the team.
“Yesterday, I didn’t really know what to expect going into the day,” he said. “It was really rewarding. It was a big goal I had to break with the team.”
The role doesn’t matter to Baumann, who’s in the bullpen and just waiting to hear his name called.
“It sounds like I’m in long relief, and I’m going to take it day by day and just try to do my job,” he said. “I’m just happy to be here and compete against these guys at the highest level.”
Reliever Dillon Tate recovered from the strep throat that prevented him from appearing in a game after March 26. He was kept away from camp.
“They didn’t want me to contaminate everybody else,” he said.
“I was still able to throw and do all the other stuff that I needed to do. It was basically just work on my motion inside and just kind of keep it in check as much as I could and play catch.”
The Orioles are 5-2 against the Rays on opening day, winning the last three. They’re 44-24 overall and 12-11 on the road in openers in club history.
“I’m excited to watch our club,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “We’re making strides organizationally. Some of these guys are getting in their third, fourth, fifth year in the big leagues. Like to see them make even more strides. We’re getting better, we’re improving, and I’m excited to watch some of these guys that we have high hopes for continue to get better in the big leagues. But opening day is always a special day. It’s like the first day of school, it’s a clean slate. Everyone’s got the same record. Looking forward to watching our club.”
Hyde crafted his lineup naturally to counter Rays left-hander Shane McClanahan, which put Rougned Odor on the bench. Odor will play second base Saturday afternoon when Tampa Bay starts right-hander Drew Rasmussen.
“(Kelvin) Gutiérrez had a really nice spring training,” Hyde said. “Played extremely well offensively and defensively, wanted to give him a opportunity. Ramón (Urías), as well. Ramón swung the bat well in camp. (Jorge) Mateo, out last couple days. Fortunately, his hand feels good and he’s ready to go today. That’s how we set the infield.”
The outfield alignment put Anthony Santander in left and Austin Hays in right. Santander made four starts in left last summer and 78 in right.
“You’re going to see those guys go back and forth,” Hyde said. “Haysie’s throwing a little bit better right now, so I’m going to put him in right field. Tony throws good as well. Feel comfortable putting him in both spots. I think when we’re at home, you’ll see Haysie playing left the majority of the time.”
The taxi squad consists only of Taylor and pitcher Spenser Watkins.
Here’s more information on Monday’s opening day ceremonies at Camden Yards:
The Morgan State University Choir, one of the groups to perform the inaugural national anthem at Oriole Park on April 6, 1992, will return to perform their rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” from the sod farm prior to the game.
A video tribute will feature an original poem by Baltimore-based poet and author Kondwani Fidel.
Cedric Mullins will receive his Silver Slugger Award.
The Orioles will recognize Lutherville resident Jeffrey Austin as Mo Gaba’s 2022 Fan of the Year. Austin has been a Birdland Member since 1989 and will be representing all Birdland Members who have been involved since the beginning of Camden Yards. He will also deliver the ceremonial game ball and rosin bag.
Fans will have the opportunity to bid on a selection of authentic ballpark seats from the left field wall renovation as part of the opening day auction to benefit local organizations through the Orioles Charitable Foundation. The auction will run on Orioles.com/Auction from Monday at 1 p.m. through April 17 at 10 p.m.
Lauren Hoffman and Dunkirk native Dennis McCamery will serve as the first in-game hosts, emceeing interactive entertainment at the ballpark.
Gates will open to fans at 1:05 p.m.
Notes: The Orioles signed veteran pitcher Matt Harvey to a minor league deal. Harvey will report to Sarasota and begins workouts.
Outfielder Heston Kjerstad, the second overall pick in the 2020 draft, has been assigned to Single-A Delmarva and placed on the injured list.
Kjerstad injured his left hamstring during an intrasquad game before spring training. His professional debut remains on hold.