Ryan Zimmerman has plenty of personality; he just shows it selectively

By now, you’ve probably all seen this. It surfaced early this week on YouTube, and as I write this, more than 22,000 people have watched Ryan Zimmerman tango his way into his AAU buddy’s wedding reception before busting out a few dance club moves. I’m guessing a good chunk of that 22,000 is made up of Nats fans, surprised the third baseman could play against his typically vanilla public persona.

Is it unusual to see Zimmerman cut loose that much? I suppose. But probably not as much as everyone thinks.

Having covered Zimmerman for three years, I’ve learned a couple things about him: He’s got a sharp wit and a wry deadpan delivery, and he can be pretty funny when the time calls for it. But Zimmerman is also completely aware of his status as the face of the franchise and the tone that means he must set in public. He’s businesslike most of the time around reporters because the situation calls for it, and he’s savvy enough about guarding his personal life that he only dispenses little snippets of his personality. Zimmerman isn’t going to be Clinton Portis, but that doesn’t mean he’s bland all the time.

In fact, one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen in the Nationals’ clubhouse came from Zimmerman early this season. After one of the Nationals’ close victories to start the season, Brady Dunn (Adam Dunn’s three-year-old son) was parked on a leather chair not far from Zimmerman and Dunn’s lockers. After he finished talking to reporters, Zimmerman saw the toddler squirming, and knew right away what that meant. So he grabbed Brady by the hand, and started walking him toward the bathroom, looking every bit like an experienced father. But then he saw clubhouse attendant Javier Castro, and immediately reverted to being the then-25-year-old bachelor. “He’s got to go to the bathroom,” Zimmerman said to Castro. “I don’t know how to do that (take a kid to the bathroom).”

I’ve seen a number of instances where Zimmerman can be colorful and jovial, and his Mercedes commercials were so funny because of how they ran counter to Zimmerman’s public face. But if you’re playing baseball in 2010, talking to reporters as much as 200 times a year and intending to be the cornerstone of a franchise for a decade, you’ve got to strike a political tone at times. Anything Zimmerman says can be dispatched to every corner of the country within seconds, and in public, he steps carefully most of the time. I doubt very much he’s like that with the people who are close to him.

For the most part, Zimmerman is a normal 26-year-old single guy, except he’s got more money and spends more time in the public eye than most of us ever will. Everybody’s got a different way of handling that, and for Zimmerman, that’s meant creating two versions of himself: the steady, earth-toned leader of the Nationals and the witty bachelor living in Northern Virginia with the big city at his fingertips.

We see the former side most of the time, which makes it all the more fun when the latter shows up. But that doesn’t mean it’s not there.