As he was searching for a focus for his latest installment in his “The Road to the World Series” collection, Philadelphia artist Dan Duffy saw the image of Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman celebrating after the last out that secured a Game 7 victory over the Astros and a Fall Classic championship and knew he’d found the perfect starting point.
Zimmerman, who had seen the highs and lows of a franchise that made him its first draft pick in 2005, stopped on the Minute Maid Park field seconds after Daniel Hudson had struck out Michael Brantley on a 3-2 pitch. He extended his arms in the air in a moment of sheer elation before hightailing it into the dog pile near the mound, as if thanking the baseball gods for delivering a most improbable World Series win to a team and fan base that had endured so much postseason disappointment.
“His face is everything,” said Duffy, who uses words across a canvas to create enduring, meaningful images for fans of sports and music. “It was just a matter of making sure I could nail the eyes, that he’s looking up and conveying that incredible wonder that he’s feeling.”
Whether it’s wonder, relief or sheer joy, the graphic created by Duffy and now available for purchase is a reminder of a most memorable season in Nationals history. The 16-by-20-inch print is available, framed and unframed, at Duffy’s website at artofwords.com. That image of Zimmerman celebrating is created by using the dates, scores and opponents of every one of the 179 games that comprised the Nationals’ 2019 campaign.
“With this piece, it was just a case of trying to capture the joy on Ryan Zimmerman’s face,” Duffy said of the image, which took roughly 100 hours to create. “You have to nail the one eye and his mouth opening (into) the smile. Those were the two main focuses and they’re only about 5 percent of the piece.”
To the untrained eye, Duffy’s work seems like a print of Zimmerman rejoicing after the Oct. 30 triumph. But look closer and every part of the print - the background, Zimmerman’s gloved left hand, his blue jersey with the script Nationals name and the blue cap adorned with a red bill and white curly W - is made from a recap of the 2019 season. From the Nats’ loss to the Mets in the March 28 opener to the Oct. 30 World Series clincher, every game is there.
Like many baseball fans, Duffy became engrossed with the Nats’ march through the postseason after a team that started 19-31 jelled behind a common goal.
“I’ve always been a fan of the underdog,” he said. “Are they going to make the playoffs? And when they did, and when they won, it became, ‘Who do you do (to feature in the print)? Is it (Juan) Soto? (Max) Scherzer? (Stephen) Strasburg?”
In the end, one simple question directed Duffy, 39, to the face of the franchise.
“Who would people want to hang on their walls for the next 20 or 30 years?” he said. “It was a pretty easy decision. It had to be Ryan Zimmerman.”
Duffy has been melding the printed word with his artistic prowess for years, his first “word art” piece in the Fall Classic series being an image of longtime Phillies closer (and one-time National) Brad Lidge falling to his knees after recording a strikeout for the final out of the 2008 World Series. He prowled parking lots at Citizens Bank Park the following season selling his handiwork, but ran afoul of Major League Baseball because he was not an MLB licensee. He quickly remedied that issue, obtaining the proper licensing from MLB and began to give the word art treatment to some of the game’s enduring cathedrals, including Wrigley Field in Chicago, Fenway Park in Boston and old Yankee Stadium in New York.
He’s done other word art prints - including a series of Grateful Dead songs whose lyrics create a guitar-playing Jerry Garcia, and historical images, among them presidential inaugural addresses of John F. Kennedy, Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. He’s currently working on a print to mark the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s Soldier Field that contains the name of every player to have played for the National Football League’s Chicago Bears.
During the World Series, Duffy listened to the local radio call from 106.7 the Fan’s Charlie Slowes and Dave Jaegler because the hometown announcers “helps you get a more local sense of the team.” The artist is hoping to supply the Nationals and Zimmerman prints so they can auction them off and use the proceeds for some of their charitable ventures.
He did a similar treatment of Alex Ovechkin after the Capitals’ run to the Stanley Cup championship in 2018, and said the fact that the Nationals won a title so soon after the Caps isn’t lost on a guy who lives and dies on the fortunes of the Phillies - and a certain notable former Nat.
“Even though I’m a Phillies fan and we’re going to take the sting of Bryce Harper’s contract for the next dozen years, (Washington) has the championship the year after he left,” Duffy said.