As part of my fundraising campaign to cover spring training, I offered readers who contributed at least $60 the opportunity to submit a question to a member of the Nationals. Manager Jim Riggleman and four players (Ryan Zimmerman, Nyjer Morgan, John Lannan and Drew Storen) were gracious enough to participate. Readers were randomly paired up with one of those five gentlemen, and I conducted the interviews over the last few days.
Here is the first installment of the Reader Q&A, featuring third baseman Ryan Zimmerman...
Brian Oliver (Alexandria, Va.): You spent only a few months in the minor leagues, and it appears Stephen Strasburg will do the same. What sort of things did you learn at Savannah and Harrisburg [in 2005] that helped you in the majors?
Ryan Zimmerman: Well, you learn how to adapt to playing every single day. You come from college and you play four or five games a week at the most. And you come here and you're playing a game every single day. So you've got to kind of get a routine down, know what you need to do every day to get ready to play a game and what you need to do to keep your body in the best shape and stay healthy. I think you go down, learn your routine and get that going, and that helps you a lot when you get up here.
Katie Edwards, age 11 (Herndon, Va.): Can you explain the differences in the structure of spring training under Jim Riggleman vs. Manny Acta?
Ryan Zimmerman: A lot of is actually the same, I think. I guess maybe a little bit more attention to detail and the little things. Riggs is really big on that. But other than that, spring training is probably pretty much the same for everyone. You do the little things and all that, come down here, get your work in and stay healthy.
Geordie Keitt (Woodbridge, Va.): Thanks for all the advocating you do for a cure for MS. My wife is a victim of the disease, and you are an inspiration to her. Question: You are by miles the team's best infielder. I would play you at shortstop, but there are obviously dynamics that I don't understand that don't permit it. So if you were manager, what would prevent you from moving Ryan Zimmerman to shortstop?
Ryan Zimmerman: Shortstop's a hard position. There's a lot of different intangibles, little things you have to worry about that you don't have to worry about at third. My first two games in the big leagues were actually at shortstop [editor's note: he committed two errors in those games]. I could play there, I think, but I would have to obviously do some different offseason workouts and things like that to shed a few pounds and become a little bit quicker. I could play it, but I don't think I'd be as good as the guys we have.
James Bell (Vienna, Va.): What specific changes have you seen in the clubhouse since Elijah Dukes and Lastings Milledge have departed?
Ryan Zimmerman: We have a good group of guys here, and those two guys weren't bad people by any means. They got along with everyone in the clubhouse. There's not any huge changes or anything. I think they were good guys, good teammates. There's really no big change, I'd say. We have a good group of guys. Everyone gets along, good chemistry. Anyone could come in here and blend in, fit in and be part of the family.
Bill Luraschi (Great Falls, Va.): More and more, it seems like kids are hearing that they have to focus on one sport at a young age, maybe 10 or 11. When did you start to only play baseball, and what advice would you give kids about when (or if) to focus on only one sport?
Ryan Zimmerman: I started playing only baseball in high school. But I would say play as many sports as you can, for as long as you can. I think it makes you a better athlete. It makes you better at all the different sports that you play. I played basketball and football as well as baseball growing up, and I wish I would have played basketball and football in high school. Obviously, it worked out OK. But I think the more sports you play, the better athlete you become and the more chance you have to succeed at whatever you end up choosing to do.
Tim Dobbyn (Bethesda, Md.): We've heard a lot lately about "character" and "clubhouse chemistry." How important is that? Does it mean more for a team like the Nationals than, say, the Yankees or Red Sox, where maybe talent overcomes big egos?
Ryan Zimmerman: Obviously talent wins. But when you're with a group of guys for seven straight months, it kind of helps to enjoy the guys you're with. You have to play for each other, I think. When you have guys who are just trying to play for themselves and don't care about anyone else or don't care about winning, they just want to get their numbers and things like that ... it makes it hard to win. The Yankees spend $200 million every year, but it took them 10 years to win a championship. I think if you asked those guys, chemistry is obviously a huge thing. I think it's a bigger factor than people think it is. But obviously, talent wins.
Chris Frost (Alexandria, Va.): What lessons are you trying to pass on to Stephen Strasburg, Drew Storen and other young players, especially when it comes to dealing with the pressure of high expectations from media and fans?
Ryan Zimmerman: You're in this position for a reason. You're obviously good enough to be here. They drafted you high enough because you're a good player. You should have confidence, but you can't forget what got you in the position you're in now. You have to work hard. You have to continue to get better and learn from your mistakes. But have fun, work hard and enjoy it.