He is the only man left who played for the Washington Nationals in their inaugural season of 2005. Though he has been surpassed as the face of the organization by pitcher Stephen Strasburg and outfielder Bryce Harper, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is still one of the most important members of the team. His loyalty and leadership has helped Washington rise from expansion caliber to World Series contender.
Strasburg and Harper are the most recent high profile first round picks by the Nationals and both were drafted number one overall. However, Washington’s first big time pick was Zimmerman taken fourth overall out of the University of Virginia in 2005. Being chosen by the new Nationals made Zimmerman the face of the franchise almost immediately. The city of Washington had gone 34 years without an MLB team and the Nationals needed to get good young players that they could build their future on. They also, needed a star that the city could call their own.
Washington began its initial season with a roster which included 37 year old Vinny Castilla at third. After batting .336 in the minors, Zimmerman was called up in September and hit .397 in 20 games for a team that actually finished 81-81. The Nationals would not reach .500 again until 2012 with the low point being back to back 59 win seasons in 2008 and 2009.
Zimmerman became the regular third baseman in 2006. While becoming an all-star, he suffered through six consecutive years of losing without complaint. As the losses mounted, Washington drafted second baseman Danny Espinosa, pitcher Jordan Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper. When the Nationals began to improve they made moves to bring in catcher Wilson Ramos, outfielder Jayson Werth and pitcher Gio Gonzalez. The expansion team of 2005 finished 80-81 in 2011 and began to see light at the end of the tunnel.
When Ryan Zimmerman went to spring training in 2012, he was finally surrounded by a group of talented players. Four of the five infielders, including Zimmerman, were 27 or younger. The starting rotation boasted no one over the age of 28. The 19 year old Harper was on the verge of making his MLB debut. For the first time in his career, Zimmerman was on a legitimate playoff contender.
Though Strasburg, Harper, Gonzalez and first baseman Adam LaRoche got most of the attention last season, Zimmerman fought through a sore right shoulder to contribute 25 home runs and 95 RBI while batting .282. The shoulder affected his play at third, but Zimmerman toughed it out and was still spectacular at times.
There is no one in the Washington organization that has played in parts of every season since 2005 except Zimmerman. Shortstop Ian Desmond was with the organization when they were the Montreal Expos, but did not make his MLB debut until 2006. Zimmerman has seen it all. He has been the face of the franchise and is now one of its elder statesmen at the ripe old age of 28. Zimmerman has matured along with the Nationals and reached his prime just as they have become good. It could not have worked out better for him or the organization.
Zimmerman may no longer be the face of the Nationals, but his loyalty and leadership has made him one of the most important members of the team.