Take a look at any Ryan Zimmerman homerun swing. Head still, eyes on the ball, the bat cocks back and then he unleashes a smooth easy stroke to great the ball. The ball leaves the bat with a thunderous crack and exits the ballpark at the speed of lightning. Then Zimmerman casually jogs to first, second, and home like he knows this isn’t the last time he’ll be doing this. Everything Ryan Zimmerman does on a baseball diamond is effortless.
After a game one afternoon a caller called into the post-game show and said Werth wouldn’t be booed as much if he looked like he was trying. That isn’t true. Werth wouldn’t be booed if he had better numbers, and since the all-star break he does have better numbers. The point isn’t about Jayson Werth it is about effort. Some fans enjoy seeing a guy get his uniform dirty, dive for ground balls, or whatever other clichés one prefers.
The true great ones make it look easy. They make the game of baseball look effortless, and when they struggle they don’t add phony dives on balls already past them, or slide to first base to get their uniform dirty. They continue to go about their business the way they always do with the knowledge that their struggles will end. Great players don’t have to look like they are trying hard, because in many ways they aren’t.
The game is the payoff. All the hard work and effort has come before the game. When Ryan Zimmerman stands in the batters box for his first at bat he has already been practicing the craft of baseball for six hours. He has studied the pitcher on video, gone over all the notes he has on him, hit in the cage, and taken batting practice with his teammates. When Zimmerman steps into the batters box it is the culmination of the effort not the effort itself.
It is important this off-season that the Nationals talk with Zimmerman and his agent. Lock the man down to a multi-year extension to keep him in DC. Around the park there are more Strasburg and Harper jerseys. In fact after Zimmerman hit his homer in Atlanta last night it was a fan in a Strasburg jersey that was shown celebrating. Ryan Zimmerman was never named the best prospect in the country. No one called him the best third base prospect they have ever seen. In fact Zimmerman was never meant to be this good. When he was drafted scouts questioned if he had the bat for third. He had played short stop in college and some thought that would be the best position for him.
It didn’t take long though for Zimmerman to prove the doubters wrong. In 67 games in the minor leagues Zimmerman hit .336/.377/.564 and was promoted to the majors in September of 2005. It was supposed to be a taste, a small cup of coffee in September for Zimmerman and a glimpse of the future for the fans. Zimmerman hit .397/.419/.569 for the month of September and that was enough for Vinny Castilla to end up traded that off-season.
In 2006 Ryan Zimmerman finished second in the rookie of the year voting to Hanley Ramirez with a batting line of .287/.351/.471 all while playing excellent defense at third. If you want to talk about compliments of the highest order Brooks Robinson has said Ryan Zimmerman is the best third baseman since Brooks Robinson. In Zimmerman’s seven seasons in the majors he has accumulated a UZR of 55.1 and a UZR/150 of 11.3. Meaning that on average for every 150 games played Ryan Zimmerman’s fielding is worth one win on its own.
The highlight of 2006 for Nationals fans was a moment Ryan Zimmerman has provided countless times since. On June 19th with Marlon Anderson on first base and the Nationals down to their final out down by one and Yankees’ Ace Chien-Ming Wang going for a complete game, Ryan Zimmerman hit a homerun into the Yankees bullpen to give the Nationals the 3-2 win. Since that time Ryan Zimmerman has hit seven other walk-off homers. That is the most for any player in their first seven years in the big leagues.
To Nationals fans Ryan Zimmerman isn’t just Mr. Walk-Off, or the face of the franchise. He is the heart of the team. The casual fan might know more about Strasburg, Harper, or Jayson Werth’s contract, but to the true die-hard Nationals fans there is Ryan Zimmerman and then everyone else. It is almost expected that Scott Boras will take Strasburg and then Harper to a big market, big money team when their time is up. The Nationals will still have a shot to resign those two, but it will be done the Boras way with all 30 teams involved. Ryan Zimmerman has made it known he wants to stay in DC. Unlike Strasburg or Harper, Zimmerman didn’t wait until the deadline to sign. He signed quickly and made it to the big leagues quickly, and now he is close to the largest contract he will get for his career. The Nationals don’t have to sign him this off-season. He is under contract until after the 2013 season, but if it gets that far then he owes it to himself to test free agency. Now is the time for the Nationals to lock him up. To keep their heart, and to keep the fans hearts from being ripped out.
Other teams have proven they can let their stars walk and continue to win. The Rockies can trade away Holliday, the Rays can let Crawford go to the Red Sox, and the Marlins can win a World Series and trade away every player that helped and keep on winning. But there is a difference between winning on the field and winning the hearts and minds of the fans. The Nationals organization has struggled with both, but now as the latter might be changing they need to insure the former changes with it.
From 2006-to present the Washington Nationals fan hasn’t had much to cheer about, but we do have Zimmerman, and if the Nationals let him walk after 2013 it will be a shot to the gut. Zimmerman is the lifeblood of the Washington Nationals organization. He is what we have had to cheer for during the dark days, and now that there is light on the horizon the Nationals owe it to the fans, and they owe it to Zimmerman to make sure he is here for the dawn.