Zimmerman making impact as freshman

By Andrew Singer

Jeff Zimmerman is just glad someone is paying attention to him.

While playing for Victor J. Andrew High School in Tinley Park, pitchers would constantly pitch around the young slugger. That isn’t the case anymore, playing on the Division I level with NIU.

Most college pitchers aren’t afraid to pitch to a freshman, no matter how acclaimed the player is. Zimmerman, though, has made a living this season going against freshmen norms. Through 41 games, Zimmerman is hitting .327 with 31 RBI, nine doubles and a team-leading five home runs as the team’s designated hitter.

Even without playing the field, Zimmerman has been a huge part of the Huskies going from an 0-10 team to contending for first place in the MAC West.

“We are a team, and we are going to need everyone on deck to win,” said NIU head coach Ed Mathey. “It starts with that knowledge, and the guys believe it, and they aren’t afraid to turn it over. Jeff’s emergence as a hitter has definitely helped stretch out the team a little better.”

Mathey doesn’t have any qualms with playing a freshman. In Zimmerman’s case, the ninth-year coach has truly enjoyed watching his DH develop at the plate in game action. Mathey has seen Zimmerman go from being a timid freshman to a confident hitter that is consistently finding the gaps with his line drives.

Zimmerman wasn’t expecting to play so much as a freshman, but has been successful by just keeping a narrow focus.

“When I get up to the plate, I honestly try not to do too much, I just try to make decent contact,” Zimmerman said. “Usually when I go up there looking to hit it a long way, I’m not that successful.”

Not one to rest on his laurels, Zimmerman is concentrating on getting back in the field. In high school, he played first base primarily. Being a middle-of-the-order power presence, the freshman’s bat is more than suited for first base.

An opportunity to be the Huskies’ permanent first baseman will arise when current first sacker Joe Etcheverry graduates after this season. Until then, Zimmerman is concentrating on improving his agility as he moves back toward playing the field.

“Going forward, I’m trying to work on fielding and my speed, because that’s definitely a weakness in my game,” Zimmerman said. “I’m probably not going to DH as much as I was this year, but for now, I’m enjoying being the team’s DH.”