clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Nationals’ Ryan Zimmerman talks the Capitals’ Stanley Cup win, D.C. as a sports town, and hosting the All-Star Game

Winning the World Series isn’t everything for Zimmerman, but it would be nice.

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Ryan Zimmerman and the Nationals are having a solid year so far. Between trading the NL East lead back and forth with the Braves, helping the Capitals celebrate winning the Stanley Cup, and hosting the MLB All-Star Game, 2018 is shaping up to be their year.

I talked to Zimmerman about all of that plus how it feels to watch the Capitals bring a championship to D.C., how the Washington fanbase has grown, and the Nationals’ chances of winning a championship of their own.

[This interview has been edited and condensed.]

Let’s talk Capitals. You and [Max] Scherzer went to Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, and you and Ovechkin have been friends for over a decade. What was it like being in the house?

It was really fun to be a part of. When I first came up in ‘05, Ovi was drafted and his first year was October of 2005 so basically him, Backstrom, and Mike Green, we all came up at the same time. We all became friends when we were younger. We don’t see each other as much as we used to, we’re all kind of married with kids and that free time doesn’t really exist anymore. But that first four or five years we used to see each other quite a bit, so to see them go through some of the stuff that we’ve gone through, to finally break through and win a championship was … I was just so, so happy for those guys.

The Nationals have experienced the same criticism sometimes, have had the same experiences of those Caps teams as far as having great players and a good core but not being able to get over the hump. What was it like to finally see them do it?

I think being friendly with them, and being in D.C. now for almost 15 years, I consider D.C. home. My wife and I go to five or six hockey games in the offseason. It’s our favorite thing to do. We’ve become fans of them, so to see them pull through it’s just … we know what it feels like. It’s not a failure if you don’t win the championship, but it kind of has become a failure if you don’t win the championship in D.C. Obviously, selfishly, I want to win one, but to see them do it was as close as you can get to having that joy for yourself.

Did you [and Capitals players] talk about that over the years? That fine line of the fan base loving both teams yet reacting to those shortfalls?

We didn’t really have to talk about it just because we get asked about it every year now. Like I said, I‘ve been here. The first five or six years we would lose 90 to 100 games every year, and now we’re expected to win 90 to 100 games every year. So we’ve come a long way in a relatively short period of time, being around for 13 years I guess it is now. To do what we’ve done as an organization, to be as consistently good as we are, I think is pretty impressive.

But all of us want to win, and I think if I end my career without winning a World Series it’s going to be a tough one to swallow. It won’t make or break me but being able to do what they just did would obviously take your career to a different level.

When you first came up it was your first season, it was Ovi’s first season, and it was also the Nationals‘ first season. You mentioned your success and making the postseason consistently and having a shot to win every year, but the Golden Knights‘ expansion success is something else.

What was it like to watch that team skyrocket, having lived that [first year in a new city] experience firsthand?

Just an unbelievable story. The expansion draft thing I’m not really positive on how that works in hockey, but I don’t think it’s setup to make you a great team in your first year. It’s funny because the GM that was with the Capitals is their GM. The whole setup with the Caps breaking through and playing against the Cinderella story thing that the Golden Knights had going on, it was fun. It was fun to watch, fun to be a part of, and very impressive to do what they did in their first year.

As far as Cup celebrations go and championship celebrations go, Ovi had quite the weekend. It really started in the Nationals’ locker room after they got back, how was it when they had the Cup in there?

I mean just how happy they all were. To feel just the pure joy of seeing that. What they’ve been through and how hard they’ve worked to get to where they’re at. Also the Stanley Cup has got to be the coolest trophy in all of sports. The history, the way it’s the same trophy every year, you take that thing out like they were doing and you have a built-in excuse to be a party starter as soon as you show up. Everyone wants to see the Cup.

Some people might have thought they partied a little too hard, having fun. I think the way that they did it — not going to like a club and renting out a room, letting the fans be a part of it, going literally all through the city — I thought that was cool of them to include the fans and include everyone. And not kind of do their own thing, which they easily could have done.

I certainly couldn’t blame Ovi for being in the seats and not putting [the Cup] down. That said, if you guys were able to pull it off this year, with it being (potentially) Bryce’s last year in the city and you having been around for over a decade, what would your go-to championship celebration be?

DC is such a unique city. I think you forget. You kind of become numb to it when you’ve been here for so long, you forget where you are and everything becomes normal. But for them to have a parade down Constitution with the Monument, the White House, so many museums, it’s almost surreal to look and see that backdrop. So, there’s so many choices in D.C. to go. As far as the first night, who knows what would happen the first night. But after that there would be a bunch of places on the list, I think you can’t really go wrong in D.C.

Do you feel like the pressure is off at all with D.C. fans? A little bit of the edge?

I guess. Honestly this is going to sound bad, but I never really felt pressure. All of us felt pressure to win, but that’s kind of our job. I feel like what we’ve done for baseball in a little bit less than 15 years that we’ve been here ... I don’t want to say it’s equivalent to winning the World Series, but for D.C. not to have baseball for so long pretty much an entire generation missed out on having baseball.

So when we first came back, I feel like us as players and the organization and fans were basically re-learning baseball here. Now we’re to the point we’re competitive every year and I think our fanbase has grown, they’ve become great. We’ll be on the road now and have solid turnout some places so it’s been fun for that to kind of develop. It’s obviously not the same as winning the World Series but I feel like what we’ve done in a short time has been pretty special for the city. Adding a World Series to it would make it way more special but it’s tough to base everything on that. I think we’ve done pretty good.

MLB: Washington Nationals at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

On that note, I remember I was in D.C. in ‘09 and we walked up to the stadium and they said “where do you want to sit.” It was “we have first base line tickets for $20.” So the team has come a long way and this year you are hosting the All-Star Game. The new [DC United] stadium is opening up, the Caps just won a Cup. Do you think as far as D.C. sports goes this is a big moment to share with the fans, everything that’s happening?

Everyone’s obsessed with calling themselves a sports town. No one’s going to be Boston, no one’s going to be Chicago. Those are places where people are born and grow up and it’s generations of fandom you could say. You can’t just have that. It has to be done that way. The truth is that D.C. is a place where not many people are born and raised, so a lot of people come here in their early 20s to work, or even a little bit later, and then adopt the team that’s there. That doesn’t mean they’re not good fans, it just means they’re not as intense or invested in a team as you would be if you were a fan ever since you could remember going to games.

I’m not saying that’s a good or a bad thing but as far as what’s happened around the stadium, with the soccer team and the area around the baseball stadium and now ultimately getting the All-Star Game, I think it will be a combination of all this sort of “growing sports town” stuff over the last decade or so. I think it will be a good way for the rest of the country to see that D.C. does really care about sports and we have a pretty good thing going on. It’s a beautiful stadium, the area around the stadium has been completely transformed into what I think is one of the coolest places. You think of places like St. Louis where they have Ballpark Village and basically have created an environment where you can come down hours before the game or stay hours after a game and still have plenty of things to do.

Which is important because I think if my wife came to a game and she wasn’t married to me she would want to do something else beyond watch a baseball game. If you can get people in for multiple reasons I think that’s cool. The All-Star Game will be a great way to show everyone that we are a city that does love sports and we’ve come a long way.

That’s another Vegas thing happening right now. People aren’t born there and the people that are or have been there for a while do have that connection.

You’ve mentioned the growth of the fanbase, and I wanted to talk to you about your work with multiple sclerosis (Zimmerman‘s mother has MS and he founded the ziMS Foundation in 2006 to help find a cure for the disease). You’ve had the foundation for years now, how have Washington fans supported you with that?

It’s been awesome. I came here as a 20-year-old and now I’m gonna be 34 in September, and I’m married and have two kids and my kids will grow up there and go to school there. Needless to say the community there ... I’ve probably created more relationships with people who have nothing to do with baseball that I will keep in touch with more than anything that has to do with baseball.

So to have that community and that sense of family, where people come out and support a cause that obviously means something to me, but honestly they might not know anyone who has MS. Nowadays, for people to donate their time or more importantly their money is hard to ask for a lot of times. But the community has been nothing but supportive for as long as we’ve been there. 100 percent we wouldn’t be able to do the stuff that we have done without them, so I’m very grateful for that.

I think that’s one of the coolest things of my baseball career, to be able to create those relationships with people around the city and meet people and do things I never would have been able to do if I didn’t play baseball. The platform that I’ve been afforded has been really awesome.

That is an awesome thing. You are battling for first in the division with a young, fun Braves team on your heels. Do you feel like you have a shot this year? How are you feeling about the season?

We have a great team. Like you said the Atlanta team is a really good team. The Phillies are a really good team as well, they’re the same way. Up-and-coming, some young guys. New York’s a great team if they can say healthy. So by no means do we expect something. We know that you have to go out and you have to work for every win at this level. If you don’t show up on any night the other team’s gonna beat you.

We’ve had some injuries early in the year. Myself, I’ve been out for a little bit. We’re starting to get guys back. Eaton’s been back for almost a week now, Murphy played his first game last night, Stras should be back … I don’t know if it’s going to be a long thing, it shouldn’t be that long. It’s a different feel this year because in years past people are going “they won the division because it’s a terrible division.”

A walkover.

There’s no such thing as easy wins at this level. I’ve been on plenty of teams that were more talented than other teams. If you don’t prepare and you don’t have all 25 guys be professionals you’re going to get beat. So if we can get healthy and we can continue to do the things that we know we can do then I think we have a chance to do something really special.

It’s never easy. I don’t know if anyone would want it to be easy. But, obviously, the ultimate goal to be going into the postseason at the right time and have a long run like the hockey team just did.