There is a quiet beauty in the way Ryan Zimmerman plays the game of baseball. The effortless dives towards the foul lines, the barehanded scoops on slow rollers, and the quiet stance with his arms raised and eyes lowered, it all just seems so easy. If the statement were made that Ryan Zimmerman is a great player many people, including Nationals fans, would argue. How can someone that makes everything look so effortless be great?
It is this stoic nature that makes Zimmerman great. I myself doubted his greatness before the season began when I read in column after column about how Zimmerman was one of the fifteen to ten best players in baseball. I cast aside the first few writers with mild suspension, but then Posnanski said it. He is the great vindicator of any baseball opinion. I read his opinion that Zimmerman was not just a good player, but a great player and suddenly I could ignore it no longer.
I thought back to a moment watching Wes Helms and Garret Atkins playing third base in the playoffs. Everything to the left side of the infield seemed to be a hit. On slow rollers I thought, “That’s an out.” Then as if by magic no third baseman appeared to snatch up the ball and throw onto first. The pitcher and the catcher were too late. I wondered where the third baseman could be. I half thought that maybe the shift was on for that hitter or some other defensive oddity. It just didn’t make sense that the third baseman wasn’t there to field the ball. Then a hard grounder was smashed to the left side just out of the short stops reach, and I wondered how it even got to the short stop.
It was then that I realized that Zimmerman had spoiled me. Watching Zimmerman play defense every day would be like only watching Hitchcock. Having no point of reference and seeing something great everyday makes the greatness fade to the expected. I was expecting Wes Helms and Garret Atkins to make plays that they don’t make, plays that only seem ordinary when a defender of Zimmerman’s ability is on the field. I had lost my point of reference. To me Zimmerman was the ordinary.
It is Zimmerman’s nature that makes you accept this. He doesn’t celebrate wildly after every off balance throw. He is quiet and plays as if he expects to make the great plays. It is ordinary for him to do something extraordinary. It is nothing special to witness diving stabs, dives over tarps, barehanded pick-ups, and walk-off homeruns. Of course that last item is an offensive item. It wasn’t until last season that Zimmerman really grew into himself offensively. He had always had his moments, but last year was the start of something special.
Zimmerman’s offense is ignored even more than his defense. His stance at the plate is nearly flawless in its silence. His hands sit raised out over the plate above the letters. His front foot back ready to step forward as his hands lower. His eyes locked in awaiting the pitcher to make his delivery. He is not a menacing presence at the plate like Albert Pujols or Ryan Howard. He doesn’t instill fear into the hearts of opposing fans and pitchers alike. Maybe it is just they don’t know enough of Zimmerman, or maybe it is just that he doesn’t seem menacing. His swing is as effortless as his defense, and when he does get a hold of a ball it seems to glide through the air as if it is take a stroll through the park. His smashes off the outfield wall come on swings that just look so easy it is believed that anyone could swing a bat like that.
When Zimmerman struggles it frustrates behind belief. Everyone has seen what he can do and how easy he makes it look. Why can’t he just do it all the time? He can just flick his wrist and hit the ball 400 ft the other way. He knows the strike zone so why did he just watch strike three? It is hard to imagine someone so gifted, so natural and smooth struggling and still not looking like they are trying. It has to be a question in some people’s minds if Zimmerman would just show a little emotion and care then maybe he could be even better. Maybe the struggles would evaporate and the season would be one long hot streak. That isn’t how baseball works. There are players that grunt and groan with ever stroke. There are those with violent swings. Then there are players that it just seems to come natural to.
Zimmerman’s quiet nature and effortless play make it hard for people to see his true greatness. Seeing him everyday makes it even hard to realize just how good he is. His type of greatness is the kind that isn’t noticed until it is gone. It is just there. It is expected, and it seems eternal in its grace. It is hard at times to truly appreciate Ryan Zimmerman. It is hard to see greatness in a quiet, serene nature encased in a player that goes about his business and makes it all seem easy.