Will Nats fans be denied a proper goodbye for Zimmerman?

OK let's get selfish, Nationals fans.

Yes, we absolutely want 100 games of Nats baseball this year. A recent proposal provides a glimmer of hope that the 2020 season might be played in some way after all.

And if that proposal comes to fruition, that means that the coronavirus shutdown might be slowly coming to an end, with baseball starting in late June or early July. That is the hope, anyway.

Then we all can get back to enjoying baseball again, which Nats fans, especially, have reason to be eager to do this season. This season was supposed to be one like no other for the Washington Nationals as they came into this year as the defending world champions for the first time ever for a franchise that arrived in D.C. in 2005. That moment of honor and celebration is reserved for very few, a rare and enviable place to be for any pro sports team.

But being selfish for a second here, as one Nats season plan holder told me yesterday when we discussed a plan for playing some baseball this season, this year was also supposed to be kind of a victory lap for the face of the franchise, Ryan Zimmerman.

Zimmerman's six-year, $100 million contract concluded in 2019 because the Nats did not pick up the 2020 club option. Instead, they negotiated a one-year deal for $2 million, a drop of about $14.666 million from his take last season.

That's OK, because Zimmerman is not an everyday player anymore, but is still extremely valuable to the team, on and off the field. Zimmerman, 35, played in only 52 games last season, the fourth season in the last six he had played in fewer than 96 games.

Zimmerman did start and play in 16 postseason games, hitting .255 with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs. His three-run homer ultimately was the game-breaking hit in the Nats' 6-1 win over the Dodgers in Game 4 of the National League Division Series. His solo shot in Game 1 of the World Series against the Astros was the first run for the Nats in the Fall Classic. As he was for so many big moments in Nats history, he was clutch again last October.

Zimmerman's one-year contract this season is laden with incentives. On top of the $2 million, Zimmerman would have received $250,000 bonuses for games played when he hit milestones of 65, 80, 95, 110, 125 and 140 games. The same goes for plate appearances, with $250,000 bonuses triggered for reaching 250, 300, 350, 400, 450, and 500 PA's during the season.

Now, with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic putting the season in jeopardy, Zimmerman might be able to reach only one or two of those bonus-kickers.

Zimmerman got emotional on a Zoom call earlier this month talking about what the beginning of this season meant to him, playing in his mind the moment when the banner was to be raised and the rings handed out at Nats Park in front of 44,000 adoring fans as D.C. celebrated its first baseball title since the 1920s.

ryan-zimmerman-red-clap-day.jpgBut everything has been put on hold, including the opportunity for fans to show their appreciation for Zimmerman, who has been playing for the Nats since 2005, the club's inaugural season in the nation's capital. Like a Hall of Fame quarterback leaving the field at the end of the Super Bowl, Zimmerman might be denied that moment when he can enjoy that ultimate cap-tipping "thank you" from the fans. The 2020 season was to be filled with bows and acknowledgements at the top step of the dugout in front of a rocking Nats Park.

Manager Davey Martinez has said recently that he will not have the 2019 championship banner raised or the rings handed out at Nats Park without having fans there to see it. Unfortunately, it seems that one of the parameters of this most recently proposed plan for returning to playing baseball is playing the games in empty stadiums. There is a possibility, however, that if baseball (and the world) can deem it safe for fans to return to stadiums during games - say the last 20 regular season games of this season - fans could still get to say "thank you" to Zimmerman in person one last time.

Another scenario could be Zimmerman returning in 2021 at age 36 to have that one final season and one final chance to say goodbye at Nats Park. Everyone's health and safety are of paramount importance, but the pandemic has thrown a serious wrench into plans to tip the cap to No. 11 as the days fade away from the 2020 campaign.

And being selfish for a moment as Nats fans, that hurts a lot.

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