WASHINGTON — Ryan Zimmerman began his speech for his jersey retirement ceremony at Nationals Park on Saturday by saying, “This is by far the most nervous I've ever felt on this field, so bear with me.”
This field? Really? This was the field where Zimmerman and the Nationals played three World Series games on their way to winning the title in 2019. It was the field where Zimmerman played 737 career games, including the very first one in which he hit a walk-off homer. It was the field where he faced some of the most fearsome pitchers of his generation.
Actually, yes. Those moments when Zimmerman faced the most pressure to succeed were the ones in which he remained the calmest. It’s why his former teammates, standing on the field to celebrate his career’s worth of achievements, say that his poise is still what stands out most to them when they look back on their time spent together in Washington.
“I think it was just the steady heartbeat,” former Nationals shortstop Ian Desmond said. “He was unwavering. You would pop into the park and you couldn’t tell if he was 0-for-30 or 30-for-30. And that type of stability is what it takes in those big moments. To have that flatline heartbeat and he thrived in those situations because of that.”
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Zimmerman took pride in how he showed up to the ballpark, put his head down and got to work. He was no Jayson Werth or Max Scherzer, who would rally the team by shouting at the tops of their lungs. Zimmerman’s locker was always open if a teammate needed to talk, and he would seek them out individually if he felt they needed to hear something.
“He was one of those guys who led by example, wasn’t very vocal,” Gio González, who pitched for the Nationals from 2012-18, said. “He was in the clubhouse, always kept things nice and loose. He was never one to put people in their place. He was always the one to put his arm around you and show you how it’s done, show you the ropes. It was exactly what he did. I couldn’t [ask] for a better teammate.”
Zimmerman’s contingent of former teammates at the ballpark Saturday included some well-known players like Desmond, González, Werth and Brian Schneider who all spent several years with him in D.C. But it also included players like Laynce Nix and Jordy Mercer, each of whom only shared a clubhouse with Zimmerman for one season.
While these players saw Zimmerman for different phases of his career, they all came to know the same, consistent player whose name will forever be displayed at Nationals Park. His temperament embodied the culture that the team wanted to instill in its players, so much so that he didn’t even recognize it at times.
“When I always say go 1-0 every day, he’s the definition of going 1-0 every day,” manager Davey Martinez said.
“He was and still is that constant professional, that’s what I know about him. It’s funny because I can remember him coming in my office when things weren’t going so good and just sitting down and asking me, ‘How you holding up?’ And I’m sitting here, ‘I’m fine.’ He always talks, he said, ‘Man, you never seem to get bothered or rattled by anything.’ I thought about it last night and I go, ‘I wonder if he realizes that he’s the same guy.’”