Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Still the Face of the Franchise

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Ryan Zimmerman is mobbed at the plate following his game-winning homer.
Ryan Zimmerman cringes every time the label is attached to his name. "Face of the Franchise." He's been tagged with that title practically from the moment he was drafted way back in 2005, and he's always been reluctant to play along with it.

And when Stephen Strasburg arrived on the scene with a flourish last month and suddenly became the most-recognizable face on the Nationals' roster, Zimmerman perhaps thought his reign was over and the wealth could finally be spread among other worthy candidates inside the Washington clubhouse.

Don't fool yourself. Ryan Zimmerman still is -- and will remain -- the Face of the Franchise. If you needed to be reminded of that, just consider the events of the last 72 hours.

It began Sunday afternoon when, with his team down eight runs, Zimmerman ignited a near-comeback. He crushed a three-run homer, added an RBI single and another base hit over the final four innings. And it continued tonight, when he reached base four times, homered in the fourth, doubled in the sixth and then sealed a 6-5 victory with a game-ending homer off Luke Gregerson.

When it comes to crunch time, Zimmerman remains the guy you want at the plate.

"Everybody knows Zim is one of the best players in baseball," Livan Hernandez said. "We expect a lot from Zim, and this is what he does. He hits home runs and makes good plays. He's the best third baseman in the league. ... It's something we see every day."

Oh, did we mention this all happened after Zimmerman was named one of the five players up for consideration as the "Final Man" on the National League's All-Star roster? You think a 6-for-9, three-homer, six-RBI hot streak might help convince fans around the country this guy deserves a round-trip ticket to Anaheim?

How 'bout it, Zim: Have you been motivated by the prospect of a spot in the All-Star Game?

"Oh, yeah. I was just waiting for it to be announced so I could get hot," he said, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"No, I've been working hard the last week or so," he continued. "I've been struggling the last three weeks, four weeks, however many weeks it is. It's frustrating. Nobody wants to do that. But I've been working with Rick [Eckstein] a little bit. It's finally getting back to where I want it to be."

Zimmerman has his moments of humility, and it's what helps make him such an easy guy to root for. But make no mistake: He wants to go to the All-Star Game. He got his first taste of the spotlight last season, and he wants to become a regular participant.

"Absolutely," he said. "I think everyone's goal is to be an All-Star, win awards. You know, we all want to win team stuff. We all want to go to the playoffs. We want to have a chance to win the World Series. But everyone works hard in this game to be good. To get honored for it and to get rewarded for it is special."

Zimmerman received plenty of honors at the end of last season. He won the Gold Glove Award, voted on by fellow players. He won the Silver Slugger Award, handed out to the best offensive player at every position. That right there solidified his stature as the best all-around third baseman in the NL, probably the second-best in baseball to Alex Rodriguez.

When All-Star rosters were announced Sunday, Zimmerman probably didn't deserve to be picked ahead of either David Wright or Scott Rolen. Each had a fantastic first half to the season, and Zim had been slumping for several weeks.

But when October rolls around, who doesn't expect this guy to stand right alongside (if not above) every other player at his position?

"Zim's just a baseball player," Jim Riggleman said, using the best compliment he can come up with. "He's clutch, but he's a good hitter. He's got power. He can field. He can do it all. He just put it all on display tonight. Great performance."

There's another reason Zimmerman remains the preeminent figure inside the Nationals' clubhouse. He is the leader of this team.

It may not show in typical fashion. Zim isn't very vocal. He's not going to put on a public rally-the-troops display in the clubhouse. But he leads by example. He plays the game hard. He runs out every play. He shows up to work early and leaves late. He comes ready to play every single day and never asks for a day off. He conducts himself in a professional manner and never does anything to embarrass himself. He devotes much of his free time to worthy causes, especially the ziMS Foundation he created to raise awareness of the multiple sclerosis that has afflicted his mother.

And he spreads the wealth. Following Sunday's game, Zim invited everyone on the Nats roster to join him on a boat he chartered for an Independence Day get-together on the Potomac. A large group of Nationals players watched the fireworks display from the best seat in the house, all of it paid for by their star third baseman.

Leadership. Hustle. A good work ethic. A sense of community. Oh yeah, and some pretty impressive skills on the baseball field (especially when the game's on the line).

That's why Ryan Zimmerman has been, and will continue to be, the Face of the Franchise in NatsTown.


Andrew said...

Love the photo! Now lets all vote a few hundred times to make Zim an All Star as he has shown again that he is indeed an All Star!

Anonymous said...

Mark, fantastic work. That gave me goosebumps. Exhibit A of why I love baseball. Kudos.

Cwj said...

Good stuff Mark.

Zimmerman's OPS is now .916
Not bad at all :)

N. Cognito said...

Only Bud Selig could have a popularity contest help determine who gets home field advanage in the World Series.

Will said...

"That right there solidified his stature as the best all-around third baseman in the NL, probably the second-best in baseball to Alex Rodriguez."

I'd take Longoria over A-Rod right now. I think he and Zim are clearly at the top of their respective leagues when it comes to overall ability.

Doc said...

Zim passed A-Rod last year--without steroids. The contest is between him and Longoria.

A DC Wonk said...

Holy Moley!! Apparently, *three* write-in candidates hit walk-off home runs last night!!

Not only Zim, but Detroit's Johnny Damon and Colorado's Seth Smith.

Anonymous said...

Is Zim a leader? Zim is not a leader, he has formed a clique with Dunn and Willingham, outsiders not welcome.

Is Zim generous!? Sure he uses his name to do charity work but at the same time he charges money for autographs and will not sign any items unless he is getting paid even for little kids!!! that is a great example Mr. Face of the Franchise!!! Heck, even Derek Jeter will sign and not get paid of for it!!!

My question is why does he have a dog named Miley and why when he makes millions of dollars does he live in a condo with a male roommate?? Can't he afford a dog sitter??

Doc said...

Even though people are making money off his autographs, charging little kids for his signature sounds out of line.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what hate fountain Anonymous @ 10:44am is sipping from (way to bravely own your words, anonymous internet jerk). I've seen no indication of a "clique" - just look at Livan stepping up after last night's game for RZ, and RZ providing support to Desmond. Who am I going to believe, Anonymous Internet Jerk or my eyes? I'm going with my eyes on this one.

I don't give a hoot in a handbag what RZ's domestic arrangements are as long as he isn't hurting anyone. Maybe the roommate is there to BE the dogsitter, genius, or maybe a thousand other possibilities. Or maybe you've got your facts all wrong. The one thing I do know is, it's none of my business - or yours. Stick to baseball, AIJ.

John C.

Les in NC said...

I know its off topic, but I can't help but dislike reading how one Anonymous poster dislikes how another Anonymous poster is trolling and not owning up to it by being Anonymous....Oh wait, one did "sign" the tangent they went off on.... *rolls eyes*

Anonymous said...

Zim need a dogsitter to live with him full-time!? Things that make you go hmmm....

Anonymous said...

I guess Zim's dogsitter has to deal with the Feces of the Franchise, eh?

U-Hoo said...

U.Va. is proud of Zimm!

As for Wright and Rolen having a better first half, shouldn't all-star consideration extend to to the second half of last season? If it's an annual game, it should be based on a year's worth of stats. That's the only thing that's right about the Pro Bowl; they honor the best of the SEASON, not just the guys who were hot in the first half of the season.

Anonymous said...

Why does he live in a condo? Would you feel better if he lived in a mansion with servants and groundskeepers?


320R2S15 said...

Well..I noticed something last night, Zimm set up closer to the plate. What a concept.

natsfan1a said...

Thanks for this piece, Mark.

(And no doubt AIJ's comments are as good as his or her name. Oh, wait...)

Anonymous said...

A. We're lucky to have Zimm here. 1st ballot HOF I betcha. Does big things at BIG times. Seems like one of the nicest people in sports.

B. This promotion: VOTE THE THIRD BASE TICKET -- VOTE RYAN AND MICHAEL! Is the absolute dumbest thing I have ever seen in my life. Wow is this ever a stupid idea.

Steve M. said...

Anon @10:44. You tell bold faced lies and obviously you are a hater.

Zim dates women which really shouldn't matter. He signs autographs for kids at the ballpark and all the time in Spring Training for adults and kids.

By the way, how do you know his living arrangements? STALKER

GET A LIFE and maybe Mark should block your IP address.

Unknown said...

To the fool who's questioning why Zimm wants/needs a roomie and petsitter: if you're away all the time, like players and coaches, and you have an znimal at home, you need someone there to look after your pooch or cat, etc. A walker coming in 1-3/day won't cut it, especially for a dog.

Hondo69 said...

Mark, great post! However, Gold Glove Awards are voted on by the managers and coaches of the league in which the player's team is in, not from any player vote. Judging from some of the players' selections for the All-Star Game, we can all be thankful for that! BTW, Charlie Manuel made a couple of head-scratching choices as well.

Andrew said...

I think Heath Bell got added to the All Star team as a replacement player so he now is out of the extra man vote.

Unknown said...

But wait, I thought Wil Nieves and Miguel Batista were our faces of the franchise? At least, that's what Stan Kasten says.

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