The Legend of Zach Biermann
By Nathan DeSutter
Mequon, WI – In a game of dice, the worst possible outcome is snake eyes. Two singular black dots staring up at a bitter, disgruntled roller. But, in Madison, Wisconsin, on a Thursday night in June, they discovered an outcome far worse, Chinooks’ slugger Zach Biermann.
Some have called him He-Man—that was a local Florida website, the ledger.com–but in the Northwoods League, a comparison to Paul Bunyan might be more fitting. And, crazy enough, it might border on realistic.
The aesthetic is a tad off. His blue eyes, blonde hair, and five o’clock shadow are a far cry from the legendary lumberjack, but Biermann—a West Bend, Wisconsin native— stands a resolute six foot, three, and when he wields his sturdy, ash bat, it strikes a fear in pitchers that’s reminiscent of him brandishing an actual axe.
However, the main selling point for the comparison is their shared status as folk heroes.
Biermann arrived in Mequon from Polk State College in Winter Haven, Florida, where he finished the season with 4 home runs, 29 RBI’s and a .273 batting average in 52 games. He didn't have the reputation of a feared power hitter, despite being a signee of the 2016 National Champion Coastal Carolina Chanticleers, but after clubbing 4 home runs and 11 extra base hits in only 46 at-bats to start the season—numbers that earned him a .804 slugging percentage and 1.259 OPS—the Northwoods League learned that fear wasn't only necessary, it was required.
Even left-handed specialists, the normal kryptonite for lefty sluggers, had no effect on Biermann. He finished his season 6-15 with 3 doubles, 1 triple, 2 homers and a 1.533 OPS against left-handed pitching. All of those marks either led the team or were tied for the lead.
Perhaps the most telling stat of Biermann’s dominance is one that doesn't show up on the League’s website, weighted runs above average. It’s more of a complex calculation, but what it measures is how a hitter stands compared to the rest of the league. In Biermann’s case, he registered a 10.3. To make things as simple as possible, he was over 10 runs more valuable than the average Northwoods League player. The next highest on the Chinooks roster is Jacob Richardson at 3.4
Sadly, that number will forever stay at 10.3 because as quickly as Biermann appeared and rose to dominance, he fled like a burglar in the middle of the night.
He was listed as a temporary player to start the season, but unlike most temporary players who are looking to earn a roster spot through impressive play, Biermann planned all along to stay temporary.
He officially headed out on June 13th—after just five home games at Kapco Park— to take a summer class, work out and get acclimated at Coastal Carolina. Now, all that remains of Biermann are the tall tales, taller home runs and impressive stat lines engrained on League website.
Outside of his teammates, a group he grew very close to a short amount of time, his impact on the season will only be vaguely remembered—a small sample size in a long, 72 game season—but there is one night that will never be completely erased from memory, the famous Biermann “beer batter” game.
Before each game at the Duck Pond, the home stadium of the Madison Mallards, the press box rolls a set of dice to determine which hitter from the opposing team’s lineup will be the days’ “beer batter.” If that batter strikes out, beer is half price for the next half inning.
As Biermann, the Chinooks’ three-hitter, strolled up to the plate, he heard the public address announcer bellow the two words he wanted nothing to do with, “beer batter!” Soon after, a roar erupted from 6,000 screaming Mallard fans.
“Last year, I was a beer batter in the Northwoods League and it didn't go very well,” Biermann said. “It gets louder when you get up to the plate and it kind of overtook me a bit.”
But, this isn't the Biermann from last year who, as a member of the Green Bay Bullfrogs, hit .213 and struck out 14 times in 61 at-bats. This time, Biermann knew exactly how to handle the parched and loudly quacking Mallard faithful.
“Everyone gets on you a bit more, but you’ve just got to tone it down,” he said. “If you get that first [strikeout] it’s hard to rebound after because it gets louder and louder.”
Biermann watched the first-pitch fastball miss outside and the count fell in his favor, 1-0. It’s normal for him to take the first pitch of the game, he likes to see and get a feel for a pitcher before uncorking a swing, but that night it might’ve been a two-pronged strategy to quiet things down.
The Mallards’ Matt McCarty, a tall, built righty from Louisville, had other plans as he tossed a get me over curveball that fell in for strike one to even things up at 1-1. Any advantage Biermann thought he’d gained by taking ball one immediately fell by the wayside. The crowd was all over him.
Biermann gathered himself, confidently stepped back in and waited. Tough situations have become normal for him. He’s dealt with injuries in both years at Polk State but fought through them to put up great numbers and earn a spot on D1 Coastal Carolina this upcoming fall.
McCarty rocked back a third time, fired Biermann a flat fastball over the heart of the plate and turned to watch as Biermann smashed a towering homer well over the right field fence. The “Beer man” delivered and his specialty brew on tap was the long ball, a bitter, hoppy IPA Madison fans wanted nothing to do with.
“It was awesome”, Biermann said. “Also, it was nice to get started with a home run and start the game off. To go from there was key. “
His next at-bat was a first-pitch groundout, not much excitement there, but in his third at-bat, McCarty got him to 2-2 and rose the crowd to their feet before Biermann again took advantage of a fastball, knocked it to deep right for a double and ruffled the feathers of fans as they slumped back into their seats.
By the time Biermann came up to the plate for his fourth at-bat, the crowd was no longer anticipating, or even pondering the possibility of a strikeout, rather, they were simply hoping the Mallards pitching staff could find a way to get him out.
One pitch later, those hopes, along with a second homer launched by Biermann, flew far over the left field fence and fans, for the fourth time, were forced to drown their sorrows with full-priced beer.
“Aaron (Patton) actually said I was gonna hit a couple of home runs the day they named me the beer batter,” Biermann said. “Afterwards, he said now you need to come talk to me before every game because you’re gonna hit home runs all the time.”
After that game, Biermann clubbed two homers in three games and my guess is a long-term friendship quickly formed between the two.
The Mallards did have one more chance to get their revenge on Biermann when he stepped in for the fifth time. But, with a sigh, and disappointingly lighter wallets, Mallard fans watched as he drove a 3 RBI triple that flew south into deep right field and added unnecessary fuel to a fire in a game that was already 10-0 Chinooks.
In total, Biermann ended his beer batter game 3-5 with a double, two homers and 7 RBI’s.
The next night he wasn't selected as the beer batter, that honor went to Brian Sobieski, a roll of the dice the Mallards swear wasn't tampered with, even though Biermann, ironically enough, struck out his first time up. However, Biermann’s reign of terror in Madison wasn't over.
During the second inning of game two, Caleb Dean faced a 3-1 count as Biermann harrowingly loomed in the on-deck circle. As Mallards starter, Mitch Vogrin, came set, the Madison broadcaster warned of loading the bases in fear of another Biermann long ball, but Vogrin missed outside, walked Dean and did just that.
On cue, Biermann deposited a 0-1 fastball into the left field bleachers for a grand slam and his third homer in two nights. It was an act that could only be described as hilariously absurd, but somehow, seemingly obvious as the Chinooks steamrolled the Mallards for the second straight night, 10-3
“It’s cool when people call [homeruns]. To have people think of me that way and that I could do that is pretty special,” Biermann said. “I was thinking to myself he was going to try and be more careful there, but he made a mistake, put a fastball over the plate and I capitalized on it.”
Luckily for the opposition, pitchers won't have to worry about repeating or learning from those mistakes when the Chinooks come to town later this summer, but the 6,316 present in Madison on the night of June 1st, 2017 will never forget the legend of Zach “Paul Bunyan” “He-Man” “beer batter” Biermann.
Actually, he prefers Zach, but if he had to pick a nickname, he’d go with He-Man.