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Nearly two decades ago, my wife surprised me with a signed red-and-white Ryan Zimmerman No. 11 jersey for my birthday, and that jersey now hangs framed in our home office. It remains one of my most cherished sports memorabilia possessions. I was a fan of Zimmerman the baseball player before I covered the Nationals as a beat reporter. In 2007, when I switched from calling Washington Mystics games to appearing on MASN-TV and hosting the post-game radio show for the Nats, I got to know Zimmerman beyond his on-field heroics.
I remember the countless times I would go over and chat with Zimmerman at his locker, before and after games. Zimmerman was a pretty quiet guy, but he would never say no to a request for an interview. A lot of times we would just talk about the University of Virginia sports teams. During my first season as a fill-in MASN-TV sideline reporter for the club, I was subbing for Debbi Taylor while she was on maternity leave, and felt nervous for my first big shot with the Nats on the road in Cincinnati. I was sitting in the visitors dugout going over my notes when Zimmerman walked by, heading for infield practice. Before he left, he tapped me on my knee with his glove. That was Zimmerman, making you feel like we were all in this together.
And that’s what he did for the Nationals throughout his 16-year career with the team. On Tuesday, the 37-year-old announced that he is retiring from baseball, leaving a legacy as the face of the franchise who guided the team with his steady demeanor and locker room presence and penchant for coming up big in key moments.
“Although my baseball career has come to an end, my family and I will continue to be heavily involved in the DMV community,” Zimmerman wrote in a statement posted by his agency. “So this is not a goodbye but more of a ‘see you around.'”
Zimmerman was there from the beginning for the Nationals. The team drafted him fourth overall in the 2005 MLB Draft and his nicknames include “Mr. National.” The team will most assuredly retire his No. 11 jersey. Zimmerman helped the Nats win the 2019 World Series and he retires as a two-time All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and a two-time Silver Slugger. He leads the franchise in career hits, RBIs, and games played. Another nickname, “Mr. Walk-Off,” refers to the 11 walk-off home runs he hit for the Nationals. But in conversations with Zimmerman, he tends to deflect the individual attention and praise.
“I think there’s really no other team or no other group of guys that could have did what we did [in 2019] and come back from how we started and win all those games in the playoffs,” Zimmerman said in 2020 about the team’s improbable World Series victory. “I honestly believe that that was the only group of guys that could have done that.”
On and off the field, Zimmerman has been synonymous with the Nats and his legacy is intertwined with where the franchise is today. He’s had a hand in everything the Nats have accomplished since 2005. More than any other name on the Nats Park second level balcony that surrounds the infield, when the No. 11 Zimmerman name plate goes up, it will be the most meaningful, because he was with the team when it all began. Zimmerman took the Nats to heights beyond what they could have dreamed of in those early seasons, and he made sure to bring everyone else along for the ride.
Photo by Lorie Shaull on Flickr, used under the Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0 license.