So, what do you think of that Ryan Zimmerman extension, Natstown? A six-year, $100 million deal with a full no-trade clause that pretty much guarantees the All-Star third baseman will stay in Washington and remain a member of the Washington Nationals for his career. That is an insanely reasonable deal for a rare bird such as Zimmerman. Three years ago you couldn't find a player that wanted to come to D.C. Now, they don't want to leave.
I have a great story I like to tell to friends, fans and readers of my blog. In 2004 the University of Virginia baseball team put on a big dinner to promote the upcoming baseball season. The keynote speaker at the function was Hall of Famer Cal Ripken Jr., a personal hero of mine, so I had to go. Before Ripken came out they had the UVA baseball team sitting down at tables and I got a complementary poster that I could have them sign. I started at one player and made the rounds. I got them all.
To make a long story short, it was a great night. I got to meet Ripken, got his autograph and the food was pretty decent. The only black spot on the night was when I put my UVA autographed poster down on the table when I went to meet Ripken. When I came back, the wait staff had cleared the table and taken away my poster. I thought I could trust people to be decent enough to not touch my stuff. I asked around, but they said it had probably already been tossed. I was like, alright. No biggy.
Looking back today, I realize it was a "biggy" and I should have probably held someone there accountable. Why? Because a year later the third baseman of that UVA Cavalier team got drafted by the Washington Nationals. His name: Ryan Zimmerman. It is a story I cringe at every time I tell it, but I have to laugh about it also. If I don't, I start crying.
Zimmerman's extension is terrific for Natstown and the Nationals on so many levels. They retain a homegrown All-Star player who wants to play in the uniform and they send the message to the fan base and players that if you produce and you remain loyal, they will take care of you. This has all been said before, but there is a deep subtext to it that needs to be read not necessarily by the fans but by the Nationals players themselves.
I hate to call them excuses because there was some merit behind them, but for years excuses were made for the Nationals or made by the Nationals for their abysmal losing ways. The "lowly Nationals" rightfully earned their miserable nickname, but you always heard that the Nationals just didn't have the tools to win. They didn't have the appropriate pieces or the right facilities or the right type of players to build a rotation or line up. There were complaints about the lack of attendance, a lack of fan energy, promotion- I mean, there were just a bunch of, yes, excuses.
With the Zimmerman extension, the organization made a strong commitment. Yes, it was a commitment to Zimmerman, but ultimately it was a commitment to every player on the team. If you don't think Zimmerman's extension was important to any other player other than Zimmerman, then take a look at the Zimmerman press conference photo. Sixteen players, including top prospect Bryce Harper, and manager Davey Johnson attended. They didn't have to, but they did. Them being there was perhaps the ultimate sign of respect, but they were also there because one of their needs and desires were being finally fulfilled.
Lost in the drama of the win-loss columns and some pretty horrid baseball, the Nationals' needs have slowly begun to be met over time. They needed a new stadium, they got Nationals Park. They needed a general manager less cowboy and more ambassador, they got Mike Rizzo. They needed a manager with experience and drive, they got Johnson. Rosters full of guys like Livan Hernandez, Nook Logan,and Wil Nieves weren't getting it done so they went out and got new horses like Jayson Werth, Wilson Ramos and Gio Gonzalez. Their farm system was ranked dead last five years ago. Today that farm has produced guys like Harper and Stephen Strasburg. The players wanted the face of the franchise signed. Now Zimmerman is a National for life.
The fans continue to buy tickets, interest in the team continues to grow, and in 2012 the excitement surrounding the team is at a fever pitch. The organization and fans have done their part. They have set the Nationals up to finally succeed. It now all hinges and depends on what it always has: the players. Natstown has given the players the tools to succeed, now it is all up to them to use them. I am not saying the tools they have now are enough for a deep playoff run, but I am not asking for that. I am simply asking for simple, sound, fun, fundamental baseball. Everything else is icing. It is time for the players to act and be accountable. No more excuses. It is time to play some baseball.
The fans and organization have signed off on the 2012 Washington Nationals. It is now up to the players to not roll up that commitment, leave it on the table and have it tossed away in the trash.