Third baseman breaks down approach to leadership, goals
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
01/17/10 6:26 PM EST
From a personal standpoint, Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had a season to remember in 2009, leading the team in RBIs with 106 and making his first All-Star appearance.
A little more than a month after the season ended, Zimmerman, 25, won his first Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.
But reaching personal goals is not enough for Zimmerman in 2010. He wants the Nationals to have a winning percentage over .500 and reach the postseason for the first time in their history.
Will Zimmerman get his wishes? Before playing golf in Florida on Sunday afternoon, Zimmerman expressed his opinion on the topics in an interview with MLB.com.
MLB.com: What do think of the Nationals’ offseason moves thus far?
Ryan Zimmerman: I think [general manager] Mike Rizzo and [team president] Stan Kasten have done a great job. I don’t think they are done yet. I think they are still out there getting some stuff. The goal is to get better from last year. I think they have done that as far as bringing in some pitchers. That’s all you can ask for as a player — have your front office go out and try to make your team as talented and as capable of winning as they can.
MLB.com: Do you think it’s the front office’s best offseason since you have been a member of the Nationals?
Zimmerman: Yeah. It’s tough to attract big-name players and big-name free agents when you are a team that loses 100 games. But I think people are starting to realize we have a good young nucleus and we have a great new ballpark. People enjoy playing in our city. When they are on the road, they kind of realize how lucky we are to play in DC. We are starting to attract some talent and I think that is the first step because, obviously, you have to start winning for some of the big-name guys to come.
MLB.com: What do you think about the Nationals trying to acquire Orlando Hudson?
Zimmerman: I think it would be awesome. I met him a few times. I obviously played against him a bunch. He was on the All-Star team with me this past year. He brings nothing but energy. He is almost like a veteran Nyjer Morgan. Every day Orlando is joking around. He keeps everyone’s spirits high. Not to mention that he is a great baseball player and Gold Glove second baseman. He could do a ton for our team.
MLB.com: Do you think he would be a difference maker if he came to the Nationals?
Zimmerman: Absolutely. Everyone knows we can hit. I think the front office has done a great job of getting starting pitching and improving our bullpen from last year. I think the next thing is a second baseman. To have a guy like Orlando — he’s a Gold Glover, he’s a great leader and has been around the game for a long time. He has had success for a long time. He can hold down a defense — sort of that leader in the middle. It’s perfect for us.
MLB.com: How frustrating was it to lose over 100 games for two consecutive years?
Zimmerman: Everyone is disappointed. I think anybody can try hard, but I think we need to take that next step where we have to learn how to win. It’s a big part of it. I think we have a young team and we are starting to jell together and grow up together. That’s our next step — learn how to win.
In the past couple of years, we figured out how to lose the games instead of how to win the games. That’s my goal and all of our goals. We have to turn that around and do the things to win games.
MLB.com: How does the team learn how to win?
Zimmerman: You have to go through hard times. You have to understand that little things can lose games. Baseball is a funny sport. There is not one thing that wins or loses a game. Everyone says, “That guy struck out with a runner on second, down by one run in the ninth inning.” Well, you probably had five or six chances throughout the game to get another run in. That comes back to bite you. We have to take advantage of those little opportunities. You can’t give the team more than 27 outs.
When our pitchers are struggling and when our hitters are struggling, the other side has to step up. That’s when being a team comes in. It’s all about having good chemistry and fight for everyone on the team.
MLB.com: On a personal level, you were able to win the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. What did that mean to you?
Zimmerman: It’s the best individual accomplishments. It brings some satisfaction, I guess, for all the hard work you have done during the offseason. For a while, everyone said I had the potential to be a great player, do something special and be one of the top third basemen.
To sit here and tell you I’m satisfied is a lie because you know how I am. It’s exciting because it’s a challenge for me to have an even better season than last year. That’s what I work for during the offseason. That’s what I strive to do. That’s what I owe to my teammates and to everyone.
I’m under contract for four more years. I want to make every year better than the one I had before.
MLB.com: Do you think you should have won a Gold Glove Award earlier in your career?
Zimmerman: I don’t get caught up in that stuff. Do I think that I’ve been one of the better defensive third basemen? Of course. I think everyone should think that way. I think I work really hard and make that a big part of my game.
MLB.com: A lot of people seem to think you should be the captain of the Nationals. Would you like to be named captain? If you were named captain, what would you do differently and in the clubhouse and on the field?
Zimmerman: I don’t think any of that stuff is necessary, especially on our team. We have so many good guys. Baseball is so much different. You have pitchers and position players. It’s such a weird dynamic. My goal as one of the leaders, along with Adam Dunn, Jason Marquis and Pudge [Ivan Rodriguez], is we have to work together to get everyone on the same page. I think that’s when something special happens, when everyone knows what they have to do to make the team better.
They have to fight for that guy. It’s doesn’t matter if you’re a pitcher or a catcher or whatever. I think everyone in the organization knows that we are a younger team and we have been battling through some tough spots, but we have good group of guys now. I think it’s more of a group effort than one guy being a captain. I’m proud to say I love the guys that we have. I love our team. I couldn’t be more excited with the guys that we have.
MLB.com: What are your personal goals for 2010?
Zimmerman: I’m not a numbers kind of guy. My personal goal is to win. I think there would be nothing more exciting than to have playoff baseball in Washington DC. I think that is everyone’s goal. The way I look at it is, if I can go out there and do something to help the team win every single game — whether it’s moving guys over from second to third or making a defensive play or draw a walk to have Adam drive them in — that’s all part of maturing. The ultimate goal is to win and play playoff baseball.
MLB.com: You are entering your fifth full season. What do you think you have accomplished thus far?
Zimmerman: It’s very hard to believe I’ve been in the league for five years. I think sometimes people think I’m a lot older than I am. It has been an unbelievable five years. I never wanted to do anything else or change anything. I feel very blessed to have the opportunity that I have.
I’ve done well. Obviously, it has been a learning experience. Baseball is probably the one sport where you learn from pitch to pitch. There is still a ton I have left to learn and prove. That’s what I love about the game. You can never be good enough. You have to get better and that’s my goal if I’m lucky to play this game for a long time.
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.