The first ever Washington Nationals draft pick, Ryan Zimmerman’s value to the franchise goes well beyond his numbers. He is an original.
He is no longer their best player or the one fans think out outside the district, but he is as important to the franchise as Teddy Roosevelt’s racing mascot and Bob Carpenter’s rooting. Once he leaves Washington, his impact will be missed.
Sure, Zimmerman is no longer the same player who could hit 30 home runs while driving in 100. Nagging injuries forced a move from third to first base then cut his playing time. This will be the first season since 2013 where Zimmerman plays over 100 games.
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Yet, despite his slowing production, he was the player who put the Washington Nationals on their own path.
When the team moved south from Montreal after the 2004 season, they were unloved. Major League Baseball ran them, shuffling from an unforgiving Quebec to an uninterested Puerto Rico and back as cities bid on the club. Washington, long looking for another franchise to come, won and the old Expos moved into the older RFK Stadium.
With the fourth pick overall in the draft, the Nationals selected Zimmerman out of the University of Virginia. A local kid, growing up in Virginia Beach, the hope was he would give the team credibility and establish new roots. They were right.
Zimmerman made the jump to Washington when rosters expanded that September and never looked back. From the bad years, to the new Nationals Park, Matt Williams implosion, to a potential third trip to the playoffs, Zimmerman is the one constant. The homegrown kid did his job.
Now, the link between Montreal and Washington is mostly in the web pages of Baseball Reference or on Amtrak’s slow-service Adirondack train connecting the two cities through New York. RFK served its purpose as the link between the old Senators and the new Nationals. Good memories cherished by new fans learning to love baseball.
Zimmerman’s statistics hardly matter in the grand scheme of things. Those injuries robbed him of his prime years and, although under contract until 2019, it remains to be seen what way he can help the team.
Never as flashy as Bryce Harper or as pressured of a Stephen Strasburg, Zimmerman steams along now as the grizzled veteran. His 12 seasons climbing the franchise record books adding the “curly W’s” to the rich Montreal lore.
However this season ends, Zimmerman again will play a big role. He will be the anchor at first base and his seasons of experience will show themselves off, somehow. The numbers do not matter as Zimmerman’s greatest claim is as the original Washington Nationals superstar.