32 years later, another Maryland native starts O's home opener

April 10th, 2022

ST. PETERSBURG -- Bruce Zimmermann has only made it to a couple of the Orioles’ famed home openers, when the orange carpet unfurls to signal spring’s return to the mid-Atlantic. One of those was in 2017, just a few months before he was drafted by the Braves -- an epic 11-inning affair won by a Mark Trumbo walk-off homer. The others, he says, were watched in awe from the living room of his childhood home in Ellicott City, Md.

None will compare to Monday’s.

Zimmermann has been tapped with the responsibility as the Orioles’ starter for the home opener against the Brewers, turning Ellicott City dreams to Baltimore realities and making him the first Maryland-born Oriole to get the start in 32 years, and just the fourth overall.

“It's a dream come true, to be honest,” Zimmermann said from Tropicana Field ahead of Opening Day against the Rays on Friday. “I’m honestly dreaming -- it'll probably be better than my debut. … I really can't really put into words how excited I am for the opportunity.”

“It adds a little extra something,” manager Brandon Hyde said in Sarasota, Fla., on Wednesday as he made the announcement. “It's extra special being from the area, he’s going to have a lot of friends and family there. But it's cool to give him the news. He's going to make the home opener -- that's a special moment.”

Zimmermann will be the first Maryland native tabbed for the home opener since 1990, when right-hander Dave Johnson, now an MASN broadcaster, led his hometown club to victory over the Tigers at Memorial Stadium with six innings of one-run ball. The list extends to to Steve Barber (1964 and '65) and Tom Phoebus ('68). Lumping in position players, Zimmermann is the first Marylander to start the home opener sine Cal Ripken Jr. and Brady Anderson did to together in 2001.

The Maryland-born trio of starters preceding Zimmermann owns a 3-1 record in home openers. But Zimmermann will be the first Maryland-born starting pitcher to get the nod in Camden Yards, opening a home slate that marks the 30th anniversary of "The Ballpark that Forever Changed Baseball."

“Just to be there is an honor, but to be the starter on that day -- I’m just going to have to kind of zone everything out as soon as I get to the ballpark and whatnot,” said Zimmermann, who was on the roster for Opening Day 2021 but didn’t line up for the home opener. “I really want to take the time to enjoy every moment as possible, but then when I need to focus, focus on the game and get ready to go.”

It’s far from the first time Zimmermann will have pitched at Camden Yards. As a senior at Loyola Blakefield in Towson, Md., he took part in the Brooks Robinson All-Star Game. In 2020, he made his Major League debut in his home city, albeit with no fans -- or family -- in attendance. But that changed in ’21, when Zimmermann had upwards of 40 family members to watch his re-debut at Camden Yards.

Even more -- former coaches and teammates, family friends, and others joining the small 40-man roster-size of people -- are expected to be at Camden Yards on Monday.

“They're all looking forward to it as much as I am,” Zimmermann laughed.

Giving Zimmermann the home opener was a baseball decision as much as a spiritual one, Hyde said. Without a rotation spot in hand entering spring, he earned it during Grapefruit League play, and it just so happened to be able to sync up with the home opener. The 27-year-old will line up behind John Means, Jordan Lyles and Tyler Wells, with the O’s still sorting out the fifth spot.

Zimmermann was asked this spring what it would mean to get the nod for the Orioles’ home opener -- a thought that only entered his mind once before, when a local radio show host asked him about it during an on-air appearance.

Zimmermann couldn’t look that far ahead, he said. He first needed to worry about making the team.

Sometimes, you can accomplish two things at once.

“[The home opener] was definitely kind of a bucket-list thing to hopefully be able to accomplish,” Zimmermann said. “The fact that it happened so quickly, I'm very, very excited and blessed and just ready to go out there and get the Orioles faithful a 'W' on Opening Day.”