WASHINGTON — Every baseball fan in D.C. knew this day would come. A day where the face of the franchise that stuck with us through it all would finally hang up his cleats. And on Tuesday that day came, as Mr. National officially retired from baseball, leaving a legacy few in this city will ever repeat.
Ryan Zimmerman was the first-ever Major League Baseball draft pick for the Washington Nationals franchise back in 2005 after their move from Montreal. Seventeen years, two All-Star appearances and one World Series championship later, he never wore the jersey of another team, cementing him forever in the DMV with the nickname, "Mr. National."
Zimmerman penned a letter Tuesday to the fans, his colleagues through the years and his family, thanking each for their contributions to his accomplishments.
"We have won together, lost together, and, honestly grown up together," Zimmerman wrote. "Through all of the achievements and the failures you always supported me, and for that I will forever be grateful."
An outpouring of supportive statements reflecting on Zimmerman's contributions to the Nationals came from the organization's top brass shortly after the announcement. “On behalf of my family and the entire Washington Nationals organization, we would like to congratulate Ryan on a tremendous career and thank him for his contributions both on the field and in our community. Ryan will forever be Mr. National," said principal owner Mark Lerner.
General Manager Mike Rizzo, who has been with the Nationals almost as long as Zimmerman since 2007, said, "Ryan always carried himself with class, honor and respect and played the game for the name on the front of the jersey, not the one on the back."
Known early in his career as a great all-around player who handled the "hot corner" of third base, he won a Golden Glove award in 2009 for his exceptional infielding, one of two times he would also make the roster of the MLB All-Star game. 2009 was the first of two back-to-back Silver Slugger awards as well, a distinction in Major League Baseball given to the best hitters at each position between the two conferences.
Zimmerman was selected fourth overall in the 2005 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of Virginia and eventually became Washington’s all-time leader in nearly every offensive category. He hit .277 with 417 doubles, 22 triples, 284 home runs, 1,061 RBI, 646 walks, 43 stolen bases and 963 runs scored in 1,799 career games. He recorded 1,846 hits while posting a career .341 on-base percentage and a .475 slugging percentage.
The franchise player was also known widely for his ability to make clutch moments happen, including a walk-off home run in the inaugural game at Nationals Park in the Navy Yard neighborhood of southeast D.C. back in 2008. In his career, he would total 11 walk-off home runs, according to baseball statistics kept by the league.
Of course, it was the 2019 World Series Championship run that highlights Zimmerman's career, coming up clutch again with a 3-run home run in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers to keep the hopes of a championship alive.
Despite the Nationals breaking their World Series trophy within hours of winning it all, Zimmerman got his own commemorative trophy for his home display case.
Zimmerman retires as the Nationals franchise all-time leader in home runs, runs scored, hits, RBIs, total bases and total games played, playing third base for 10 years until switching to first base in 2015. But it was his impact off the diamond in the greater D.C. community that showed his fans just how special his heart is.
Following the 2006 season, Zimmerman established the ziMS Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to the treatment and ultimate cure of Multiple Sclerosis by funding comprehensive support and educational programs. His mother was diagnosed with MS in 1995 and their family was greatly affected by the disease. According to their website, the ziMS Foundation hosts local events in Zimmerman's hometown of Virginia Beach and in Washington, D.C. to raise funds for the Foundation.
To date, the foundation has raised and committed over $3.5 million to programs and research, according to donation data from their website.
Zimmerman signed a one-year, $1 million deal to play for the Nationals last season, continuing a recent trend in his later years of taking on a leadership role in the clubhouse as more than a stats-buster. He says his family was always supportive of his career despite the sacrifices required.
“He can play for as long as he can hobble out there onto the field," his wife, Heather Zimmerman, said. "I love him. I love having him around and at home. I learned how much he loves to play the game. It makes all of us happy. It’s special but we know it will come to end one day."
Finally, last October, in what is now known to be his final home game at Nats Park, Zimmerman received an emotional standing ovation from a truly grateful crowd, including players from both dugouts, as he wiped away tears and could only repeatedly mouth "Thank You." A curtain call fitting a baseball protagonist with a story no Hollywood writer could script.
"To my beautiful wife Heather: Thank you for sacrificing so much to allow me to play the game that I love," Zimmerman continues in his letter. "To my kids, Mackenzie, Hayden, Henry, and Benjamin: Thank you for teaching me that baseball is not even close to the most important thing in the world."
Zimmerman says he and his family will continue to live and participate in the DMV.
"You have given so much to us over the past 17 years; it is now time for us to give back to you," Zimmerman wrote.
He provided an ounce of insight into what's next by saying, "We look forward to continuing many of our community programs and starting new ones in the future."
From the city of Washington, D.C. home of the 2019 World Series champs, WUSA9 would like to say thank you #11, for your contributions to the game, the city, the community, and anyone who believes in making a career of doing it the right way.
As you say, we'll, "See you around."