Rachel Levitin: Learning to cope without Zimmerman’s impact

John Feinstein of The Washington Post once wrote that anyone playing one of the major sports “knows that the way to make the highlight shows isn’t to hit a jump shot or a home run, it is to dunk and dance; score a touchdown and salute; or hit a home run and pose.” Ryan Zimmerman, 26, is a poser - and not the bad kind.

Since it was first announced April 11 that Zimmerman would be heading to the disabled list for the longest stint of his young career, the Nationals have been playing in a world without him. Whatever caused the surgery-inducing abdominal strain isn’t what sparks interest from the injury. It’s how the Nationals and Zimmerman continue to handle this injury that speaks more than any action.

It goes back to posing. Whether it’s a walk-off home run, a quick throw across the diamond or stepping up to the batter’s box, Zimmerman always seems so poised on top of posing for a crowd of adoring fans. Face it - when you walk around Nats Park there are very few player tees and jerseys that are prominent and the ones that are include Jayson Werth, Bryce Harper, Stephen Strasburg and Zimmerman. And before last summer, it was mostly Zimmerman.

Mr. Face of the Franchise has watched and grown with Washington’s newest baseball team almost as long as we have. If anyone has respect for the Nationals, it’s got to be him.

Manager Jim Riggleman always makes it a point to tell the media that Zimmerman is not just a hitter or a fielder. Riggleman calls Zimmerman an all-around ball player. That’s what Zimmerman is.

It is rare to see Zimmerman display any form of emotion on the field. There have, of course, been exceptions to this, including a few close called strikes at the plate. Other than that, the man plays baseball with his head, heart and body - not with his facial emotions.

Zimmerman was batting .357/.486/.536 with one home run and four RBIs in 37 plate appearances before hitting the disabled list in early April.

According to Matthew Pouliot of Hardball Talk, “The effect of one or two injuries to a team is often overstated by baseball analysts, but losing Zimmerman for a couple of months is a huge blow to a Nationals team that spent big over the winter in order to improve their standing and bring more fans into the ballpark.”

No matter your thoughts on whether or not the Nats are seriously struggling as a result of losing Zimmerman, the fact is that Zimmerman is a presence on and off the diamond. He’s an impact player and impact person. Whether he’s noticed for his work with the ZIMS Foundation benefiting research for multiple sclerosis or for his day job, this young man has made a name for himself at an age where most people are starting their second or third job.

Here’s to a quick and speedy recovery, Ryan, not for the Nationals, but for you. That way, you can return to the game you’ve devoted so much for your life to.

Rachel Levitin blogs about the Nationals for We Love DC, and will be sharing her observations about baseball in the nation’s capital this week as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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