Goodbye or Not, A Nice Ending:
Ryan Zimmerman, until recently, didn’t want a lot of fanfare around what might be his last game with the Washington Nationals, but the 37-year-old, 16-year veteran talked it over with his wife in the days leading up to the season finale this past Sunday and decided on a plan to show his appreciation for the fans in the nation’s capital in case he did decide that he is ready to retire.
“Because I’m not sure really I didn’t want to make a big deal out of something,” Zimmerman explained to reporters in his post game Zoom call after Game 162 of 162, “... but the last couple days with the pinch hits, when the fans would stand up every time, and you know just kind of the energy and the feeling in the park I think it was good to do that more for, I would say, them than me, is I guess the best answer.
“Say whenever the offseason comes and I do decide not to come back, I think I would look back at today and feel like I should have done something to thank them. So that’s kind of what it came down to. I went in and talked to [manager] Davey [Martinez] when I got here today, and he said let him do his job, because he had already planned to do something like that. But I wanted to do it for the fans and for the people in the stadium.
“Obviously, I have a special relationship with this fanbase and the community. And talking with Heather last night I think if I do retire this offseason and I didn’t do anything today, I would have regretted it.”
Martinez had already determined that he wanted to give both Zimmerman and Alex Avila, who announced his decision to retire at the end of the year earlier this season, a proper goodbye, so let both take the field, and pulled them off late in the game so each of them could have a moment with their teammates and the fans.
“Those guys have had amazing careers, still don’t know what Zim’s plans are, so we’ll see what happens this winter,” Martinez said.
“But Alex, it was joy to be with Alex once again, truly a professional, one of the best guys I’ve known, and it was emotional, you know. They didn’t think I was going to do that, and Alex said, ‘All I kept thinking about was wanting to punch you.’
“But, I said, ‘Hey, it had to be done, you guys deserve it, so.’
“I honestly did not expect that,” Avila said of his own send-off. “Where we were at in the game, I just didn’t expect that, and I was a little surprised by it, but it felt amazing. I also — I mean, I didn’t want it either. I even mentioned to some of the coaches that I was hoping Davey wasn’t thinking of doing something like that, especially with Ryan also playing the game, but he felt that it should have been done, and the feeling that I got, even though I was only here one year, that I was able to make an impact on some of these guys, and the fans, were incredible. I did not expect that at all, and it was amazing.”
Avila said he’s actually been soaking in the ovations Zimmerman has been getting over the past few weeks.
“I love that for Zim,” the 34-year-old, 13-year veteran said. “You could just tell all year, every time he came up to the plate, what he’s meant to this city and to these fans, and with the ovations he was getting all year, every time, and even yesterday’s game, when he came in to pinch hit in [Saturday’s] game, while we were getting ready in the cage, I was like, ‘I’m going out there,’ because I just loved every time just going out there when he was coming up. They’d play his music and the fans would get into it and it was fun to see.”
Though Avila, who signed a 1-year/$1.5M deal with the team this season, and was limited to just 34 games by injuries, he bonded with all his teammates, and Zimmerman in particular.
“He’s tremendous,” Avila said. “I’m glad I had the opportunity to play with him for a season and be teammates with him. I think because of it, we’ll be life-long friends, and I enjoyed it, and it was fun to watch, and he deserved every bit of it because what he’s done for this franchise is incredible, and not too many people not only are able to be as good as he was for as long, but then also grow up with a team, and that’s pretty special.”
Zimmerman did enough in his 16th season to convince himself and the Nationals that he can still play if he wants to in 2022.
“Well, the production was not surprising,” GM Mike Rizzo said. “It was expected of him and of me, and he’s — Ryan Zimmerman has a place on this roster as long as Mike Rizzo is the GM, so whenever he wants to take a major league contract, just call me up and we’ll give him one.”
Zimmerman said he still doesn’t know what he’s going to do.
“I think the only thing I kind of told Davey is I started the season around 50/50 and it hasn’t gone up,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can say. I didn’t want to rush to make a decision just for the sake of making a decision by this last day, just because I really don’t know. I still feel like I can be productive. I am lucky I get to see my family way more than most people do. Most people don’t live in the city they play in. I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I think a lot of people think we get to fly our families everywhere and do things, but a lot of people make huge sacrifices to play this game, and probably the biggest sacrifice is not being able to see their families as much.
“So, obviously I think as we’ve talked here for the last 10-15 minutes, I think that’s the biggest decision as to whether I’m going to play next year.
“Obviously I think we’ll see what they do as far as being competitive next year as well.
“I’ve lost a lot of games before. Nobody likes losing, but like I said also I’ve known Mike for a long time, I’ve known the Lerner family for a long time, they don’t like to lose either, so we’ll see what they do. We got some good young prospects back from all those trades we made, and we’ll kind of see how that goes but I would say that those are probably the two biggest factors when I sit down and kind of think about next year.”
Joan Adon, who made his MLB debut in Avila and Zimmerman’s last games, talked after the game about working with Avila and watching the face of the Nationals’ franchise on his way up.
“I felt great,” he said of his work with Avila “... especially throwing to a veteran guy like him who has played a lot of baseball and had a great career. Especially on his last day, his last game of his glorious career.”
Adon said he also followed Zimmerman’s career as he too came up in the organization.
“I grew up watching him play, and a tremendous player and the tremendous career that he’s had at this level, and I just thought to myself, hopefully I get the opportunity to play as long as he did and help the team win as much as he did himself.”
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