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My First Favorite National: Ryan Zimmerman

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The Washington Nationals’ Face of the Franchise was able to contribute to the first World Series win for a D.C.-based team since 1924.

Washington Nationals Photo Day Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

I was bred a Pittsburgh Pirates fan. But over the years, I developed an admiration for the Washington Nationals.

That’s probably due in large part to my interest in politics and American history. It was only natural that the team in the nation’s capital would become a team for me to watch.

It also doesn’t hurt that my eighth-grade trip was to Washington, D.C. We packed two buses and trekked northward from a small city in east Tennessee. In fact, I bought a New Era cap with the curly “W” on it while I was there. I saw “Little Shop of Horrors” at Ford’s Theatre, looked at the Constitution behind glass, visited the Lincoln Memorial, and looked at all the names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial.

I didn’t make it to a Nationals’ game. That wouldn’t come until years later. At that point in time, Nationals Park had just been built, and was one of the reasons I needed a newer version of “MLB The Show.”

But much happened between the Nationals’ first season in 2005 and now. There was one player who, unsurprisingly, stuck out to me: Ryan Zimmerman. In his age 21 season, Zim finished second in Rookie of the Year voting. In 2009, he was an All-Star, a Gold Glove winner, and a Silver Slugger recipient, his first of two (2009, 2010). In 2017, he made his second All-Star appearance. Finally, in 2019, he was a World Series champion, something that seemed to be culminating in D.C. over the last decade.

The first time I saw Zimmerman was on “MLB The Show 06” as a player on the first screen. Something about him reminded me of the dad of a friend of mine.

It was in that game that I took control of Zimmerman and the struggling Nats, who were, of course, playing at RFK Stadium at the time.

I was fascinated by that team, that third baseman, and that stadium. (It reminded me of the cookie-cutter stadiums of yesteryear which I never saw.) It’s strange the things you latch onto when you’re so young. There was nothing obvious that drew me towards any of those things, but I was allured, nonetheless.

From a distance, I watched Zimmerman and the Nationals’ ascension to the pinnacle of baseball. All the while, I was mostly focusing on the Pirates. But I would’ve considered myself “Nationals’ fan adjacent.”

The culmination of all the years Washington had put into its baseball team resulting in a championship wasn’t as cathartic for me, certainly, as those who had been firmly on board since the beginning, but it was great theater, regardless.

Now, 15 years into his career, Zimmerman hasn’t paved a glorious road to the Hall of Fame, but he has contributed a sustained and consistent effort, something that Nationals’ fans should be proud of. So many times we’ve seen first round picks never reach fruition in Major League Baseball. Zimmerman was not one of those players.

So, no matter how long Zimmerman plays, and no matter where the baseball world takes him, I will always think of him as that rookie in 2006 gracing the menu screen of the baseball game for PlayStation 2. The things you latch onto in childhood sometimes carry on for the rest of your life. Zimmerman and the Nationals fall into that category for me.