Back in early October 2019, before Ryan Zimmerman helped Washington’s Nationals win the first World Series by a D.C.-based team since 1924, and before he opted out of playing in the 2020 COVID campaign out of concerns for his family’s health, Max Scherzer (rather politely, actually) scolded reporters who kept on pressing Zim about the fact that each time the Nats faced elimination that fall, it might have been the 2005 1st Round pick’s final game.
Zimmerman was not then, (and since he’s back in West Palm Beach, FL preparing for his 16th big league campaign and 2021’s planned full season), is not now anywhere close to being ready to retire.
TRANSCRIPT - OCTOBER 7, 2019:
REPORTER: Zim, your contract’s expiring, and this could be your last game before a home crowd. Did you have any extra oomph at your at-bats, especially with the home run and a single right afterwards?
RYAN ZIMMERMAN: There’s been a lot of people that think these are my last games —
MAX SCHERZER: I really don’t think these are his last games. All of you think it’s his last games.
RYAN ZIMMERMAN: The last home game they tried to give me like a standing ovation, I mean, I feel good. I think that we got plenty to go...
Sitting out of 2020’s 60-game COVID campaign, Zimmerman told reporters this week, in his first Zoom call of Spring Training, reminded him of why he loved baseball, and two years on from that October presser, the now-36-year-old slugger still doesn’t see himself hanging up the cleats any time soon.
Now that he’s back with the boys in West Palm Beach, Zimmerman is in his element, and as he prepares for his 16th major league season, he’s been reminded how much he loves all of the good things that go along with his chosen career.
“I think just being around, and that’s one of the things I missed most last year,” Zimmerman explained, “and when I talk to the guys who retire or finally get away from the game, I think the biggest thing they miss is the clubhouse and kind of that camaraderie and take it out on the field too. The competition is fun.
“That’s what drives us, and I think I missed that a lot at home last year. It’s kind of what we need to survive I guess.
“I guess taking that season off last year also made me realize I’m really nowhere close to being ready to not play anymore.
“I missed the game a lot. I missed what it takes to prepare every day. I think as you get older there’s more and more that you have to do to get ready to play, but I missed all that as well.
“So just happy to be back, happy to be around the guys, and joke around and laugh, and you miss that.”
Zimmerman signed a 1-year/$1M for 2021, [ed. note - “Zim’s take on the deal - “I have tons of leverage when I negotiate now, so they had to compete against five or six other teams, and we finally got them up to one [year] for $1M. So it was long. Just kidding.”], and his manager is excited to have the first baseman back backing Josh Bell up at first as the club tries to get to the postseason again after 2020’s disappointing follow-up to 2019’s World Series win.
“He’s a guy when we have to have these conversations,” Martinez said this week when asked about Zimmerman’s role with the club, “... that I have to have tough conversations within the clubhouse, he’s one of the guys I really lean [on].
“I talk to him and we talk quite a bit. He’s a veteran guy, he’s been in this game a long time.
“He’s been in Washington a long time. I always sit down and I always pick his brain, but he’s, like I said, he’s an unbelievable, not just a player, but a person. I love our conversations that we have every day.
“I never thought last year was going to be his last year. I felt like he opted out because of a lot of uncertainties. This year he feels a little more at ease with everything going on.
“Knowing more about the virus and trying to take care of his family. But he came into Spring Training and he looks great and he’s moving around really well.
“We want to keep him healthy and keep him on the field, because he’s going to play a big role this year for us.”
As for what, if any, plan the club has for Zimmerman in terms of playing time and his role in 2021? Martinez is just focused on the here and now and getting the veteran ready to play.
“We’ve just got to get him ready. It all depends on how he leaves camp, if he’s healthy what we’re going to do with him,” Martinez explained.
“I told him that he’s going to get an opportunity to do different things, whether it’s to play defense, to pinch hit, to start a game against a lefty, and even give Josh Bell a day off. For me it’s a good problem to have when you have two guys like that that share a position.
“So we’ll utilize them both.”