Zimmerman making Washington proud

Published 8:43 am Sunday, July 6, 2008

By By Ashley B.futrell Jr., Owner of the Washington Daily News
Some people spend a lifetime trying to get away from the place of their birth.
Then there’s Ryan Zimmerman.
Ryan, the emerging star of the Washington Nationals who is in his third years as the team’s starting third baseman, was born in Original Washington, but he never called the Pamlico area home. And while many would argue that his connection to Washington results from a mere accident of birth, Ryan seems ready to embrace Washington as more than a minor footnote in his life story.
I was fortunate to spend some time with Ryan in the Nationals dugout prior to a recent game. Before I had the opportunity to share some information about his place of birth with Ryan, a chance encounter with a Hall of Famer gave me all the information I needed to know about my interview subject.
Maybe I was approaching the main question from the wrong perspective. I was wondering if Ryan would claim Washington, N.C. Maybe I should find out if Washington should claim Ryan.
Don Sutton, the Hall of Fame pitcher from the Los Angeles Dodgers and a broadcaster for the Nationals, saw me sitting alone in the dugout waiting for Ryan to finish shagging fly balls during batting practice. He introduced himself to me and asked where I was from. I told Sutton my story and why I wanted to interview Ryan.
Sutton took it from there.
I asked Sutton if Ryan was doing Washington, N.C. proud.
With that kind of introduction, it was time to sit down and talk with Ryan. An expected five-minute conversation turned into 30 minutes.
I asked Ryan what he knew about Washington.
Keith and Cheryl Zimmerman were living in Edenton at the time of Ryan’s birth on Sept. 28, 1984.
That the Zimmermans chose to make the trip south to Washington for Ryan’s birth speaks highly of the reputation of Beaufort County Hospital and our community’s medical staff. The Zimmermans lived in Edenton until Ryan was seven, then moved to Virginia Beach. Ryan doesn’t even remember much about Edenton.
Growing up in Virginia Beach, Ryan had the opportunity to play on teams with current major league players David Wright and B.J. Upton, and against Mark Reynolds. Ryan followed Reynolds to the University of Virginia, where Reynolds was the established shortstop. Ryan was moved to third base.
After three years starring at Virginia, Ryan was drafted by the Nationals and was soon a fixture in the starting lineup.
In his first full year in the majors, Ryan hit .287 with 20 home runs and 110 RBIs. He was second in the voting for the National League Rookie of the Year, losing to the Florida Marlins’ Hanley Ramirez by a razor-thin margin, 105-101. Ryan joined a distinguished group of major leaguers to finish second in the voting for Rookie of the Year, including eight Hall of Famers like Stan Musial and Ernie Banks.
Keith Zimmerman, who played collegiate baseball at Atlantic Christian (now Barton) College, and Cheryl make the trip from Virginia Beach to D.C. to watch their son play on a regular basis.
Ryan’s time away from the diamond focuses to a great extent on Cheryl, who is confined to a wheelchair with Multiple Sclerosis. Ryan has used his celebrity status to start a foundation to support MS research and support programs, appropriately called the ziMS Foundation, a very impressive and mature undertaking for a 23-year-old.
The foundation’s main fundraiser is a golf tournament held in the Tidewater area in the fall. In its first year the tourney raised $60,000, while last year the take was close to $100,000. This year’s tournament will be held Nov. 8.
Ryan is currently on the disabled list with a left shoulder injury. He says he should be able to start swinging a bat any day now, but will still require another couple of weeks of rehabs before he will be activated.
So what about this connection to Washington? I gave Ryan a clipping of the “Zimm Zone,” the stats box that the Daily News has published each Sunday since his rookie year. He was very pleased that there are folks back in the town of his birth who are following his career.
That Don Sutton sure is a good judge of character.
For more information about the ziMS Foundation, please call 866-721-ZIMS (9467), or e-mail info@zimsfoundation.org.