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ADAM HIMMELSBACH: Ryan Zimmerman comes to Culpeper
Washington Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman mingled and signed autographs at a Culpeper Little League clinic Friday.
But the children did not ask about the art of hitting, the Nationals’ playoff chase or even Zimmerman’s home run against the Mets the night before.
Instead, they talked to Zimmerman about video games and sneakers and their favorite pizza joints. When the Little Leaguers weren’t chatting with Zimmerman, they were just as content to be joking with each other and flicking each other and carrying on as 10-year-olds often carry on.
And that is part of the reason Zimmerman seemed to enjoy himself so much on this soupy, drizzly day—a Nationals game day, nonetheless.
“We’re so businesslike and professional,” Zimmerman said, “so you come out here and have fun, and it makes you think back to when you were their age.”
Zimmerman is just 27 years old, of course, so the coat of dust on his childhood memories is not exactly thick.
But, if nothing else, this quiet morning in this quiet county took him back to a simpler time, before everything turned into a blur of contracts, interviews and road trips.
Zimmerman did not actually give much, if any, instruction during this clinic. That job was left to a group of young, plucky baseball clinic employees in matching company uniforms.
Instead, Zimmerman roamed through the infield as the children fielded ground balls. He wore khaki shorts, a plain blue T–shirt and a camouflage baseball cap, looking more like one of the parents on the other side of the fence than a former National League all-star.
In fact, many of the children seemed to have no idea who he was.
One girl recognized him from a video game. One boy said Zimmerman was his father’s favorite player.
Zimmerman tried to start up conversations—sometimes awkwardly—almost like a new kid at school trying to make new friends.
He asked one boy what position he played.
The boy told him he was an outfielder.
“You look fast, too,” Zimmerman told the boy. “Are you fast?”
The boy smiled and lowered his head and nodded.
During a fielding drill, 9-year-old Jackson Gimbel stood a few feet in front of Zimmerman, who is his favorite player.
Gimbel scooped up a grounder, spun, and fired the ball to the backstop. Then he jogged by Zimmerman and looked out of the corner of his eye, hoping he had noticed.
“He hasn’t stopped talking about being here for two weeks,” Gimbel’s mother, Christina, said quietly.
Each small group at the clinic had an autograph session with Zimmerman, and the children were not shy. Many asked for three or four signatures before running the merchandise back to their parents.
Zimmerman signed everything that was placed in front of him, with a quick and concise “RZ” that surely must save a lot of time when your name is Ryan Zimmerman.
There were the usual requests—baseball hats, gloves and bats. And then there was the unusual—an iPhone, a face. (Zimmerman smoothly talked his way out of the latter.)
At the conclusion of the clinic, there was a brief question-and-answer session.
One of the organizers tried to screen a few questions ahead of time.
But then it became clear that screening questions from fourth-graders is about as effective as raking leaves during a windstorm.
So the inquiries began to flow.
They asked Zimmerman if he is related to Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann. (He is not. And, as Ryan pointed out, their names are even spelled differently.)
They asked him to name his favorite color. (Red and blue, naturally.)
They asked why he uses wooden bats rather than metal. (“I might hurt people with metal.”)
In an honest moment, a young boy asked how much money Zimmerman makes each year. This question made the organizer with the microphone uncomfortable, and he shuffled on to the next question.
(If you’re reading this, kid, he makes $12 million a year.)
Finally, one young boy with his hat turned backward had the microphone lowered to him. He took a deep breath and asked his question.
“Do you have any friends that are your bestest, bestest, bestest friend?”
Declaring a triple-bestest friend demands some contemplation, so Zimmerman diplomatically said many of his teammates are his best—er, bestest—friends.
Zimmerman was here for well over three hours, and he never started texting or scrolling through his cellphone in a this-better-end-soon way.
When the session ended, he was serenaded with chants of “Zim! Zim!” that were instigated by the event organizer.
Moments later, there was screaming and clapping that was unstaged. The children had just been told that pizzas were waiting for them in a tent outside the field, and it was time to eat.
As Zimmerman walked toward a vehicle that would whisk him to Nationals Park, the Little Leaguers were focused on lunch. They were focused on being kids, and, for a few hours at least, Zimmerman remembered that feeling, too.
Adam Himmelsbach: 540/374-5442