CLEVELAND -- It was once, unofficially, Jim Thome’s town, back when the franchise home run leader would hit many a prodigious poke to the second deck. Then, officially, the right-field mezzanine section of Progressive Field was dubbed “Pronkville,” in honor of Travis “Pronk” Hafner’s monster shots.
But a 2015 renovation of the right-field district opened up the concourse at the expense of about 10 rows of mezzanine seats. And so, for a long while, the former Pronkville appeared unreachable … until Bradley Zimmer did something incredible in the first inning of Thursday’s 10-6 victory over the Rangers.
He sent one to Zim City.
And understandably, he watched it fly.
“When you really get one like that, it’s hard to kind of take off running,” Zimmer said. “You watch it for a little bit and then go on your way.”
This one went a long way. On a hot August night in which the Indians captured a series win by getting at least one hit from every spot in the lineup while also running the bases at will with a season-high five steals (three alone by José Ramírez), Zimmer’s titanic two-run home run was easily the most indelible offensive offering.
Measured at 465 feet, with a 113.9-mph exit velocity, the homer -- which gave Cleveland an early 4-0 lead -- was the first to meet the mezzanine since the renovations. It was also the third-longest home run hit by a Cleveland batter since Statcast began measuring in 2015.
The longest? The 471-foot shot Zimmer hit to the second row of trees beyond the center-field wall on Aug. 9.
“When he connects with a baseball,” Cleveland starter Sam Hentges said, “it’s pretty electric.”
Though Zimmer might seem an unlikely candidate to have two of the club’s three longest homers in recent memory (a 466-foot homer by Edwin Encarnación in 2017 stands as the second longest), his latest big blast added to the intrigue surrounding his newfound health and productivity, which on this night also included a 109.2-mph RBI single in the eighth.
Nearing his 29th birthday and long removed from his selection at No. 21 overall in the 2014 MLB Draft, Zimmer’s long litany of injury issues -- most notably a right shoulder surgery that limited him to 29 total games in the bigs in 2019-20 -- seemed to shorten his ceiling. In this second half of 2021, however, he’s been able to post up on a consistent basis and flash his skills.
“You miss time like that and essentially get forgotten,” Zimmer said. “It’s always next guy in line, so, unfortunately, the game doesn’t really wait for you. You’ve got to grind through it and make your presence known and show you can make an impact for the team. It was a long road for me, but I’m happy to be back where I belong and have the hard work pay off.”
Zimmer is getting on base at a .343 clip, he's hitting to all fields, he’s utilizing his speed on the bases and in the outfield, and, yes, he's hit a couple tape-measure blasts, including the one that was the talk of a victory that pushed the Tribe back above .500.
“That thing hit up on the concourse,” said acting manager DeMarlo Hale. “We were asking some coaches who have been here a while and they were saying we haven’t seen too many people up there. Maybe Thome, someone said. But [Zimmer] has got that kind of skillset.
“When he puts a good swing on it like that, it’s good to see. And that last at-bat, he was able to take what the pitcher gave him. That’s a good, progressive frame of mind. Hopefully he keeps going. We give him a day off now and then, but by and large, he’s been playing pretty good.”
Zimmer gawked at his huge homer while catcher Austin Hedges screamed in the dugout and pitcher Triston McKenzie covered his agape mouth with his hand. Those were just a few of the many roused reactions the homer inspired. And that’s twice this month now that Zimmer, who has six homers on the year, has hit a dinger sure to endure in people’s memories.
Which was his favorite?
“It’s hard to choose,” he said with a smile. “They were pretty much the same feeling.”