WASHINGTON — Seventeen years and 11 days after Ryan Zimmerman became the first player ever drafted by the new Washington Nationals, and just over eight months after appearing in his last game for the franchise, his number 11 squad number was retired. by the club.
At a ceremony ahead of Saturday’s game between Washington and the Philadelphia Phillies, the man known as “Mr. National” removed a blue uniform shirt with “11” on the back and handed it to his father, who handed it to the clubhouse. and materials manager Mike Wallace.
Then a plaque with Zimmerman’s name and number were revealed on a gable of the upper deck in foul territory between home plate and right field in Nationals Park.
“The unique… story of my career is that I was here from the very beginning,” said Zimmerman at a news conference where he was introduced as the team’s special adviser for baseball and corporate operations, “and it’s just a bit of luck.” have to be here for the first year and then stay here and be able to grow — with the fan base, with the organization … So I think that’s what makes me a little bit different, a little bit special. It’s nothing that I did I was just here.”
A classic example of a Zimmerman understatement.
“He was that very understated leader,” said Nationals manager Dave Martinez. “He didn’t say much, but when he spoke, everyone listened. … He would do it very discreetly, but his message would get through. That’s Ryan.”
Growing up not far away in Virginia Beach — as a child he played baseball with the likes of David Wright and the Upton brothers, among other future major leaguers — and never left the area, attending the University of Virginia before spending his entire career with the Nationals.
Zimmerman, who started at third base before shoulder injuries caused a move to first base, retired as the club’s statistical leader in more than 10 offensive categories after last season, including hits (1,846), home runs (284), RBIs (1,061) and game-ending home runs (11).
He was a two-time NL All-Star. He was there when the ex-Expos lost 100 games — twice. And he was there to help the Nationals win the 2019 World Series.
“I’ll remember how Zim was on the field, off the field,” said Bryce Harper of Philadelphia, a teammate of Zimmerman’s from 2012 to 2018. “He was also so in tune with the community. Never took the game for granted. It’s just really nice to see him being honored in this way. He’s Mr. National. Everyone knows it.”
Harper’s current team happened to be visiting, so there was the two-time NL MVP, Saturday on the top step of the dugout, clapping along with the crowd giving Zimmerman multiple standing ovations.
Several other former teammates, all retired, were also on hand to commend the man of the hour, including Jayson Werth — “One of the main reasons I came to Washington was Ryan Zimmerman; without him, this franchise is a different place” — and Ian Desmond — “The time, effort and energy he put into the organization; the loyalty through it all” — along with Daniel Murphy, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Brian Schneider, Gio Gonzalez and Lake.
“He’s a special young man. All class,” said Mark Lerner, the primary owner who is investigating the possibility of selling the Nationals. “People appreciate that he’s stayed with one franchise his entire career. He’s a National for life.”
Numerous former teammates offered well-wishes during a video tribute during the pregame, on-field festivities, while another video was narrated by Zimmerman’s wife and parents.
Holding one of his two sons, Zimmerman threw the ceremonial first pitch of the game—caught by his father—as his two daughters yelled, “Play ball!” before the actual first pitch was thrown by Josiah Gray.
As for the number that will never be worn by a player for the Nationals again? Zimmerman said it came about by accident.
As a kid, he wore number 1 — not because of a great player, but because of 1990s NBA All-Star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, his favorite basketball player. Turns out it was assigned to a classmate in Virginia, Matt Dunn.
“They just happened to give me 11,” said Zimmerman. “I wasn’t going to ask anything as a freshman in college, so I just thought, ‘Okay. Well, that’s pretty cool. I used to be 1, now I’m 11.’ So it’s a very boring story, but that’s the way it is.”
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