Body to mind: Peter Zimmermann’s journey to the middle of Missouri’s lineup

The powerful designated hitter has helped spark Mizzou’s solid season.
Junior Peter Zimmermann misses the hit against Kentucky. Taylor Stadium, Friday, April 5, 2019, in Columbia, Mo Marco Storel

On a cool afternoon in northwest Arkansas, the Missouri Tigers were two outs away from being swept in their first SEC series of the year.

Arkansas junior Jacob Kostyshock was on the mound with a 2-0 lead, humming fastballs north of 95 miles per hour when he hit sophomore Mark Vierling with a pitch, bringing up junior Peter Zimmermann.

Zimmermann, a St. Louis native, played youth baseball with Kostyshock, who is from the nearby suburb of O’Fallon, Missouri. In the pair’s first meeting two days earlier, Zimmermann went down swinging on one of Kostyshock’s signature heaters. Coming up to the plate with the game on the line, Zimmermann was content to see his former teammate on the mound, or any of the Razorbacks’ litany of MLB prospects. It was the type of moment he lives for.

“Instead of letting it get to me, it gives me an edge,” Zimmermann said. “It makes me fired up. It’s fun. That atmosphere is awesome. I love the challenge. I love seeing [Arkansas junior] Matt Cronin coming in throwing 95 [MPH]. I love [Arkansas redshirt junior] Isaiah Campbell. I don’t care if he strikes me out. I’m gonna go up there and swing as hard as I can.”

With the game on the line, Kostyshock went to the fastball again. Zimmermann didn’t miss it this time, squaring the ball up and hammering it high over the wall and off the batter’s eye in centerfield. Tie game. That night, Zimmermann got a text from Kostyshock. “Thought I could get one more by you” it said. Zimmermann smiled while recounting the story.

“Good try there,” he concluded the anecdote.

MU went on to lose the game, but Zimmermann did enough to establish himself as a regular in the middle of the starting lineup for the rest of the season as the designated hitter. Dealing with a leg injury sustained early in the year, he started only five of the first 16 games. Since the homer, he’s started 26 of a possible 30 games, almost all of them in the No. 4 spot — he began the season batting eighth — where he’s provided protection hitting behind center fielder junior Kameron Misner by hitting .273 with a .362 on-base percentage, five home runs and 30 runs batted in, third most on the team.

Playing baseball at a high level is something Zimmermann’s been preparing for most of his life. Growing up in St. Louis, Zimmermann’s father, Ted Zimmermann, said his son “had a bat in his hands, literally before he was two years old.” Peter Zimmermann spent much of his childhood on various fields around the Midwest, playing with his traveling team and regularly winning tournaments. It wasn’t until his teenage years that Ted Zimmermann began to notice the difference between his son and other young ballplayers.

“I started noticing when he was in his early teens as he was growing,” Ted Zimmermann said. “Because you start getting around other athletes, going to showcases and participating in national and regional events, and seeing how he performed against people from outside the city really started giving some perspective on really what a special player is.”

While developing and excelling with the physical tools needed to play baseball at a high level, Peter Zimmermann was also honing an aspect that became every bit as much of a factor in his game as his swing or athleticism: his mind.

Never particularly fleet of foot, the six-foot-three-inch, 225-pound Peter Zimmermann has stolen eight bases without getting caught for Mizzou this season from studying pitchers, reading bounces and getting good jumps. He didn’t develop that baseball intelligence overnight.

“He's a real student of the game and he has always had a passion for baseball, even as a little kid,” Ted Zimmermann said. “Growing up in St Louis and following the Cardinals and all of their stars, like [Albert] Pujols, and he really was fascinated by the game, and he learned it really at a young age.”

When Peter Zimmermann entered high school at Chaminade College Preparatory School, his coaches noticed the same thing his dad had.

“You could tell the difference between when he hit the ball and when other people hit the ball,” Chaminade coach Chris Chiburis said.

Zimmermann enjoyed a successful career at Chaminade, highlighted by an eye-popping .492 batting average his junior season. On Aug. 5, 2015, shortly before the start of his senior year, he announced his commitment to Tulane University.

“He had done a really good job of looking at what he wanted in a college and Tulane hit the buttons for what he was looking for,” Ted said.

Zimmermann’s senior season was expectedly dominant, as he hit .362 with a .681 slugging percentage. Chaminade had a mediocre team overall, going 12-9 and failing to make the state tournament, but he was on to bigger and better things, scheduled to report to Tulane for summer classes and practices in early July.

He never stepped foot on Tulane’s campus. Green Wave coach David Pierce accepted a job at the University of Texas and took the rest of his coaching staff with him on June 29, less than a week before activities were scheduled to start. With the coaches Zimmermann had cultivated a relationship with for over a year gone, Tulane no longer seemed like the best option.

“It was a whirlwind,” Zimmermann said of his decommitment. “I mean, it really was. I had talked to a lot of schools. Missouri State was one of them. [I took] some visits and it just was a hard process because it's so late in the game. Most schools have the recruiting classes finished up. Some schools are getting new coaching staffs... So there's a lot of things that go on.”

At the end of that whirlwind, Zimmermann elected to stay close to home and attend Saint Louis University, the alma mater of both his parents.

“It was something that he had been exposed to all growing up,” Ted said. “And so it didn't surprise me that that might be one of the places he chose and he can be close to home when he did, because again, [he] didn't have a lot of time to go through a process.”

Zimmermann’s career at SLU got off to a solid enough start in fall baseball, until he hurt his back slamming into a wall chasing a pop fly. The injury lingered all year, limiting him to six at-bats in the spring. After one season, he decided it was time to leave in search of greener pastures.

“It wasn't the toughest decision to make,” he said. “I just wasn't comfortable there. I liked the guys, just the coaches definitely didn't mesh as well. I just think it was the right decision for me in my career.”

His quest for a new school led him to the world of Texas junior colleges, a world filled with players who will someday get drafted or transfer to a top-25 Division 1 program. Zimmermann settled on San Jacinto Community College, an NAIA powerhouse in Pasadena, Texas.

“When he first showed up, he was coming off of a back injury and we didn’t really know what we were gonna get out of him,” San Jacinto assistant coach Kory Koehler said. “Just a big, physical kid who really liked to hit, worked his tail off, swung the bat, more of an offensive player than a defensive player.”

In October, the recruiting process was starting for the third time in three years for Zimmermann. After a strong fall, he fielded offers from Southern Mississippi, North Florida, Florida Gulf Coast and Indiana among others. When his home state of Missouri came calling in January, he was initially hesitant, and entered the spring season with his future still in the air.

That uncertainty didn’t affect him on the field. He once again established himself in the middle of a lineup, and hit .344 with six homers while batting mostly fourth for the Gators.

“We were expecting a power bat, and what we got was an all-around middle of the order type guy who hit in our four and five hole for us all year,” Koehler said.

Forty-four games into the season, Zimmermann committed to Mizzou. It wasn’t an easy decision, having had a bad experience staying close to home at SLU, but his familiarity with the coaching staff and idea of playing in the SEC in his home state ultimately won out.

“I kind of wanted to step out of my comfort zone,” he said. “I went to Houston and played at San Jac. That's out of my comfort zone a bit, but I kind of realized, SEC ball's going to be out of your comfort zone as it is. So why not go to a school, play SEC ball, be an hour and a half from home and be with the coaching staff who have been working and becoming better and better every year here?”

Flash forward to April: It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. MU had just walked off on rival Kentucky to even the series at one game apiece. Having driven in three runs in the win, Zimmermann entered the film room to talk to reporters sporting an unusual look. Typically players are still in uniform while addressing the media. Zimmermann wore a white headband and a white cutoff T-shirt.

“I stole this from [junior] Zach [Hanna]’s locker,” he said proudly. “R.I.P.”

Hanna, who is two inches shorter and 22 pounds lighter than Zimmermann, has been out the entire season with a hand injury. As serious and focused as Zimmermann is on the field, he likes to keep things loose off of it.

“Now [his attitude] is serious, but at the same time, he brings a passion to it,” Ted said. “Some guys are kind of quiet and lead in that way. Some guys lead with their energy. And I think that that's been part of the way he's always played. Away from the game, he's fun to be around. He's a passionate person in all aspects of his life, but he's a lot of fun.”

That attitude has spread to the rest of the team. After a slow start to the season, Zimmermann says the team’s rise has coincided with an increase in how much fun the players are having. In a recent series against South Carolina, members of the team added a flair to postgame interviews, creating elaborate scenes behind the interviewee as he talked to SEC network.

“Coach [Steve] Bieser kind of just let my personality kind of be there, because I think at times earlier this year we didn't have as much of a team personality,” Zimmermann said. “Now, I feel like a couple of us started showing more, I wouldn't say flare, but more personality out on the field….we have a team personality and I like to be a part of that. We aren't all just robots and I think that's why it, [we’re] kind of starting to do well. They have guys finding their niche, finding their role and it's been really good.”

As the end of the season comes into focus, Mizzou is looking at being No. 2 or No. 3 in its region according to most projections. It hasn’t won a regional since 2006, but Zimmermann intends to change that.

“I want to break that regional streak,” he said. “I want to not just get to the regional. I want to win a regional and we want to do all that here. I feel like we got the talent on the team, the coaches and the people around this program to do it.”

Edited by Emily Leiker | eleiker@themaneater.com

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