It is easy to get caught up in all the hype that surrounds the Nationals right now. The Nationals are in a pennant race for the first time since the franchise located to Washington D.C., really the first time in franchise history (no thanks to Fehr and his apparent love of lockouts). It is an exciting time to be a Nationals fan, Bryce Harper is now in the big leagues hitting impressive home runs and doing things that, frankly, are new and exciting surprises every night. The Nationals starting rotation, the best in the Majors, has received attention for more than one reason, but mostly because it is such a talented staff. The one player that seems to get lost in the mix, at times is Ryan Zimmerman.
In 2005, the Nationals came to D.C. In that same year, Ryan Zimmerman was drafted by the organization and Zimmerman eventually made his Major League debut as a September call up in the same year. Ryan Zimmerman is an impressive talent, his play in the field dazzles and his clutch home runs have endeared Ryan Zimmerman to the fans of the D.C. baseball team. A lot of years went by where the Nationals were mediocre, never played in a pennant race, and finished below .500. One thing stayed the same, though, Ryan Zimmerman was at 3rd base. In 2009, Ryan Zimmerman signed an extension that was good through 2013 even though he had played on a team in 2008 that lost 100 games and where Ryan himself had missed significant time due to injuries. Ryan Zimmerman responded by having a career year. In a bleak 2009, Ryan Zimmerman was the bright spot earning his first all star appearance, his first silver slugger, and his first gold glove. The Nationals lost 100 games that year, but Zimmerman truly gave you a reason to go to the ballpark regardless. Over the years, Nationals fans had dubbed him “Zim” as a nickname, proving that he was the face of the franchise and the one player on the Nationals everyone knew and loved.
Toward the end of 2009, Ryan Zimmerman had received reinforcements, sort of. It started with Ian Desmond, who made his Major League debut that year. Toward the end of 2009 as a September call up and through 2010 Ian Desmond cemented himself as the Nationals’ long term solution at shortstop. Ian Desmond, though he stumbled at times, would go on to learn his position well and become one of the best shortstops in the league and earn his first all star nod in 2012. Michael Morse came along in the end of 2009 as well, coming along in August as a bat off the bench. Morse began to provide good offense and eventually earned a starting nod after a rough start to 2011. 2010 brought along Danny Espinosa, who showed his offensive and defensive prowess as a September call up in 2010, earning the second base job (Starting to see a pattern here?). Thanks to the help of a developing starting pitching staff in 2011 the Nationals started playing well and were able to utilize trades and the free agent signing of Jayson Werth to put themselves on the radar screen. The Nationals were able to have a respectable 80-81 year (one game canceled due to rain) in 2011 thanks to all the upgrades and additions. One thing stayed consistent though, Ryan Zimmerman.
It became apparent after the 2011 season that the Nationals still viewed Ryan Zimmerman as the cornerstone of the organization. Zimmerman again missed a significant amount of time because of injuries, but was able to get locked in upon his return. Zim missed 60 games in 2011, but still managed to .289/.355/.443 with 12 home runs. The night everyone knew Ryan Zimmerman was Ryan Zimmerman again was when he hit a walk off Grand Slam against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 19th, 2011. Before the 2012 season began, Zim had stated his desire to stay in D.C. and the fans all agreed. Mike Rizzo took his time, made some moves, and eventually landed on a deal that would keep Zim with the Nationals through 2019 with an option year for 2020. Ryan Zimmerman turned 27 before the 2012 season, thereby locking up the Nationals cornerstone player in the prime of his career.
Ryan Zimmerman is the player the Nationals built their franchise around. Zim is the only player to have been with the Nationals since 2005 and the one player the Nationals have made significant attempts to keep around for the long haul, as signified by the 2009 contract and the 2012 contract. Zim played so well in the years leading up to the Nationals’ first winning season, 2012 and he has shown no signs of changing. Zim struggled early in 2012, but once he was able to get past his shoulder ailments he again began to hit the ball well and continue his dazzling defensive plays. The Nationals and all the fans know that if Ryan Zimmerman continues to do what he has always done, the Nationals are in a good place with him at 3rd.
In my opinion, Zimmerman seems to take a back seat to some of his team mates at times. It is not something Zimmerman likely worries too much about, nor should anyone else. There is constant talk about other players on the team, such as Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez, but not much on Ryan Zimmerman. Bryce Harper is so natural in baseball and plays the game with such vigor that it seems to effect the entire league at times. Strasburg is a dynamic pitcher who has such amazing talent it is hard not to discuss his abilities. Gio Gonzalez, while previously under the radar, has taken a stage due to his arrival in a very fair trade and Gio is an impressive talent as well. It is funny, though, that the one player most Nationals fans will tell you is their favorite is Ryan Zimmerman. It is great, that Zimmerman has all these new team mates and that they are playing as a team to make the Nationals the best team in baseball.
In the end, it does not matter how much anyone talks about a player. It seems necessary at times, though, to acknowledge that Ryan Zimmerman is the face of the franchise, the longest tenured player, and an amazing talent as much as any on the 2012 Nationals. At times, I look at what Ryan Zimmerman means to the Washington Nationals and I think to myself that he is the Washington Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman, the face of the franchise, he is Mr. National.