On the first day of Spring Training, which came just a short time after baseball’s 99-day lockout came to an end, Davey Martinez, his players, and his staff with the Washington Nationals had to confront a reality that would be different from the previous four years of his tenure and 16+ years for the organization: Ryan Zimmerman was no longer an active member of the roster.
Zimmerman, 37, decided to retire after 16 seasons (and 17 years) as part of the club, and though Martinez was only there for the tail-end of the 2005 1st round pick’s career in D.C., they did win a World Series together and form a bond that’s going to last.
“Personally, I’m going to miss Ryan a lot,” Martinez told reporters this past Sunday.
“We’ve had some unbelievable conversations over the years. He’s a phenomenal person, not just on the baseball field but off.
“I told him he’s more than welcome to come any time he wanted to. As a matter of fact, I think he’s going to come down to Spring Training sometime, but I want him around.
“We’re going to be young, so I want him around for some of the young players, so whenever he wants to speak his mind with these guys I want him to do that. He’ll be missed, for sure.
“He was that silent captain I always looked up to him, I always loved talking to him about just life in general, so I’m definitely going to miss him.”
Scenes from Nationals Spring Training today (a thread) pic.twitter.com/1HJuTbxnPr— Jessica Camerato (@JessicaCamerato) March 16, 2022
Aside the obvious personal relationship, Martinez said, Zimmerman’s decision affected the Nats’ roster as well, obviously.
“Yeah, I lost my DH,” Martinez laughed.
“Yeah, but it opens up another spot for a player. He called — I was the first person he told [about his decision to retire] this winter, and we had a great conversation on the phone, he wanted to thank me for everything, so like I said, ‘It’s not like you’re going anywhere, I’m going anywhere, we’ll definitely see a lot of each other, we’ll definitely have some great conversations.”
They had another one of those great conversations on Wednesday when Zimmerman visited the team’s Spring Training facility for the first time in his post-playing days.
“It was awesome,” Martinez said after Zim spoke to minor league players gathered in West Palm Beach, and caught up with “old” (relative term here) teammates and his manager. “It was good to see him, yeah. We had some good conversations. He’s still around here, so I’ll talk to him a little bit, but we spent some time talking yesterday, and he said it’s already a little bit weird looking from the outside in, but he’s not that far removed, and it’s always nice to see his ex-teammates,” (better term), “... and get to talk to them again, and they were excited to see him, so it was good to have him here.”
Asked what he wanted the next generation of Nationals to take from the one-time face of the franchise, Martinez said he thought Zimmerman could continue to lead by example in his post-playing career.
Ryan Zimmerman on retiring and what's next, live from the spring training patio in West Palm Beach: https://t.co/1pNDf4vp0u— Jesse Dougherty (@dougherty_jesse) March 17, 2022
“For me, it’s what he’s done,” Martinez said, “What made him him. And they could learn a lot from that, and he said this game is not easy, and it wasn’t easy, it was a whole lot of preparation and process for him, but as you know, he got it done, and had an amazing career.”
In his 17 years with the team (16 seasons on the field, since he opted out of playing in 2020’s COVID campaign), Zimmerman put up a combined .277./341/.475 line 417 doubles and 284 home runs in his 1,799 games and 7,402 plate appearances with the organization, so yeah, he’s a pretty good example to follow.
As for who might step up to fill the [silent-] leadership void, GM Mike Rizzo told reporters Zimmerman would really be missed, but the face of the franchise is an ever-renewing role.
“There’s other veterans on the team that are going to have to step up,” Rizzo said when he too spoke with reporters on Day 1 of Spring Training.
“Zim was the face of the franchise and was a quiet leader in that clubhouse, his presence was felt. We need some other guys to fill that void.
“To me, this is Juan Soto’s team. He’s the face of the team, the face of the franchise, he might be the face of Major League Baseball. It’s his team.
“He’s going to be a young leader, but he’s going to be the leader of the club.”
While Zimmerman does have a 5-year/$10M personal services contract with the club which was included in the 6-year/$100M extension the team’s first first round pick signed back in 2012, he said he had a more important commitment right now.
“I have a personal service at home right now,” Zimmerman said when he spoke to reporters in Florida on Wednesday, as quoted by The Washington Post’s Jesse Dougherty.
“That’s my biggest contract. [He and his wife, Heather, recently welcomed their fourth child.] But I’ll always be involved with this organization. I think I’m going to try a little bit of everything. Talking and working with minor league kids. Keeping in touch with the big league guys. Talking to the coaches. Who knows — maybe do some TV stuff. Just kind of over these next few years, kind of try a bunch of stuff out and see if any of it works, if I’m good at any of it and kind of go from there.”