With the news of Ryan Zimmerman’s retirement, there will undoubtedly be dozens of stories told about his exploits over a very memorable 17-year career, ranging from dramatic game-winning walkoff hits, to his home run in the 2019 World Series.
But the story I’ll never forget – and when No. 11 became my favorite Nationals’ player for all time – came back in the early days. It was a warm Sunday back in 2006, and was Father’s Day.
It was June 18th, and Ryan’s first full season in the majors. He had been called up to the Nationals at the end of the previous inaugural season, playing the last 20 games of the 2005 season, so he was a player the fan base was still getting to know. He was from Virginia Beach and played at UVA, so having also grown up and gone to college in the Commonwealth, I immediately liked him since he was a local.
He was the kind of player I wanted to see do well with the Nats.
A neighbor had called that morning with two tickets to the Nats game, saying the friend he was going to go with backed out. My wife, noting it was Father’s Day, said “it’s your day, go have a good time.”
When we got there, everything seemed perfect. It was at old RFK, which while not being a cosmetic beauty, had this air of DC sports history that helped any longtime area sports enthusiast overlook the flaws and effects of age. You remembered seeing the Redskins from certain seats. The really older guys remembered the Senators. And we all knew a new stadium was on the way.
But while it seemed perfect, seated right in front of us were three fans of the opposing team that day, the New York Yankees. If you’ve spent any time around Yankees fans, they’re a confident lot and not given to keeping their opinions to themselves. Much like traveling in the South and encountering an Alabama fan (don’t know how many national titles they’ve won? Just wait 3 minutes. They’ll bring it up in conversation) these fans started talking from the first pitch about their great baseball history and Washington’s lack thereof.