This Friday and Saturday the Washington Nationals are celebrating the career of Ryan Zimmerman, the former Virginia third baseman who was the first ever draft pick by the Nationals after the franchise’s relocation from Montreal. The weekend is headlined by the unveiling of his name in the Nationals Ring of Honor at Nationals Park and the retirement of his No. 11.
The only other Nationals to have their names in the ring of honor at Nationals Park are former manager Frank Robinson and former players Jayson Werth and Ivan Rodriguez. None of them have had their number retired, however, as Zimmerman will become the first player to have his retired by the team when they do so on Saturday. The franchise retired three numbers for four players while in Montreal.
“Not only is Ryan ‘Mr. National,’ but he is, more importantly, a dear friend,” Mark Lerner, Nationals’ managing principal owner, said in a statement. “It brings me and my family so much joy to see that his No. 11 jersey is the first in Nationals history to be retired, and we’re all looking forward to welcoming Ryan, his family and friends back to the ballpark for a weekend full of celebration, memories and thanks.”
Among both Nationals and Cavaliers fans, Zimmerman’s No. 11 jersey is iconic. And after this weekend, in about a two-month span, Virginia fans and Washington fans will have both been given the opportunity to recognize and celebrate the career of their Employee No. 11. The Cavaliers did so back in late April during a home series against Virginia Tech. Zimmerman was inducted into the Virginia Baseball Hall of Fame back in 2018 as a part of the inaugural class but did not have his number retired until this season. Former longtime Virginia baseball coach and athletic administrator, Jim West, is the only other person to have his number retired in program history.
At his UVA ceremony, Zimmerman threw out the first pitch and was presented with a commemorative base and jersey. Third base at Disharoon Park also now features Zimmerman’s name on its side for every Virginia home game in honor of the former All-American third baseman.
During his three years at Virginia, Zimmerman hit for a .355 batting average and broke the program record for hits in a season in 2004 with 90. He then broke that same record again in 2005 in his final season at Virginia when he had 92 hits. Since then, his mark has been matched or broken four times. Phil Gosselin set the current record with 100 hits in 2010, while Jarrett Parker broke it with 94 in 2009. Ernie Clement (2016) and John Hicks (2011) tied Zimmerman with 92 hits.
In program history, Zimmerman ranks eighth in career hits (250) and fifth in batting average (.355). At the time of his fourth overall selection in the 2005 MLB Draft, he had the honor of being the highest draft pick of any Virginia player ever. Now, left-handed pitcher Danny Hultzen, drafted second overall in 2011, is the only Cavalier to have been drafted with an earlier pick than Zimmerman. He has given back to the program and University.
“It’s just so rare to see a player of that magnitude do what they did at the highest level of baseball, and then to be so engaged back at the school that they went to,” O’Connor. “It is really impressive, and it just speaks to who he is as a man. And it was just great to see his entire family here. I know a lot of his teammates were here, and to look up and see this stadium full on this day that the greatest player that’s worn our uniform [is honored] was really, really special. I’m thankful that our fans responded and came out to not only support our team, but also on this day to support Ryan.”
After a three-year collegiate career in which Zimmerman was a two-time All-ACC selection and an All-American in 2005, he went on to a lengthy 16-year career with the Nationals. Over the years in Washington, Zimmerman earned the nickname “Mr. National” due to him being the team’s first draft pick after their relocation to D.C. and the immense contributions he made on the field.
He holds the franchise records for a variety of different offensive statistics – games played (1799), at-bats (6,654), plate appearances (7,402), runs scored (963), hits (1,846), total bases (3,159), doubles (417), extra base hits (723), home runs (284), and RBIs (1,061). He also earned the nickname “Mr. Walk-Off” for his late-game heroics. He’s tied for eighth all-time in MLB history in career walk-off home runs with 11.
In his time at Virginia, the Cavaliers made the NCAA Tournament each of his last two seasons. Once in Washington, it would be a while before he got to taste postseason baseball again. Zimmerman was part of several awful seasons far from contention from 2006 to 2011 and then seasons in 2012, 2014, 2016, and 2017 when the team was unable to advance past the first round of the playoffs. In 2019, the team finally won their first playoff series and eventually went on to win the World Series.
Zimmerman came up with clutch hits a few different times during that year’s playoff run beginning with a broken bat single that helped the Nationals rally from down two runs in the eighth inning of the National League Wild Card Game. In the Division Series, Zimmerman hit a three-run go-ahead home run in Game 4 that proved to be the game-winning hit and kept the Nationals alive. They won Game 5 and moved on to the Championship Series. Zimmerman’s excellent fielding ability, which he originally crafted at third base while at Virginia and most of his Washington career, was on display as the Nats first baseman in Game 1. He made an incredible diving catch to temporarily preserve a no-hitter. The Nationals advanced again, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals and placing them in the World Series for the very first time.
Zimmerman’s first career World Series at-bat resulted in a home run, the first ever for a Nationals player. It was a full circle moment for Zimmerman as the only player to play for the Nationals for their first 15 seasons of existence and as the player who hit a walk-off home run in the first ever game at Nationals Park.
Zimmerman only played one more season for the Nationals after their World Series win. After opting out of the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he returned for one last season in 2021. He batted .243 and hit 14 home runs that year. He finished his professional career with a .277 career batting average and .341 on-base percentage. He made two All-Star Games (2009 & 2017), won one Gold Glove Award (2009), and two Silver Slugger Awards (2009 & 2010).
This weekend, Washington will honor its first ever draft pick and retire his iconic No. 11 just as UVA did earlier this spring. For Virginia and for Washington, there will never again be another No. 11 and very few, if any, future players will ever reach the status Zimmerman holds among fans of the Cavaliers and Nationals. Saturday offers one final opportunity for fans to recognize and celebrate his contributions of which there are simply too many to count.