HOWARD FENDRICH Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Seventeen years and 11 days later Ryan Zimmerman was the first player ever drafted by the new Washington Nationals, and just over eight months after appearing in his last game for the franchisehis number 11 became the first shirt number retired by the club.

In a ceremony before Saturday’s game between Washington and the Philadelphia Phillies, the man known as “Mr. National” pulled off a blue uniform shirt with “11” on the back and gave it to his father, who gave it to club and equipment manager Mike Wallace.

Then a plate with by Zimmerman the name and number were unveiled on an upper deck facade in foul territory between home plate and right field at Nationals Park.

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“The unique story, in a way, of my career is that I was here from the very beginning,” Zimmerman said at a press conference where he was introduced as the team’s special adviser for the baseball and business operations,” and it’s just kind of lucky to be here the first year and then stay here and be able to grow — with the fanbase, with the organization. … So I think that’s which makes me a little bit different, a little bit special. It’s nothing that I did; I was just here.”

A classic example of Zimmerman’s understatement.

“He was this very low-key leader. He didn’t say much, but when he spoke, everyone listened. … He would do it very quietly, but his message would get through,” Nationals manager Dave Martinez said. “That’s who Ryan is.”

He grew up in nearby Virginia Beach – playing baseball as a kid with David Wright and the Upton brothers, among other future major leaguers – and never left the area, going to the University of Virginia before. to play his entire career with the Nationals.

Zimmerman, who started as a third baseman before shoulder injuries prompted him to move to first base, retired after last season as the club’s statistical leader in more than 10 offensive categories. including hits (1,846), home runs (284), RBIs (1,061) and game-ending home runs (11).

He was a two-time NL All-Star. He was there when the ex-Expos lost 100 games – twice. And he was there to help the Nationals win the 2019 World Series.

“I will just remember how ‘Zim’ was on the pitch, away from the pitch. He was also in tune with the community. I never took the game for granted,” said Bryce Harper of Philadelphia, Zimmerman’s teammate from 2012-2018. “Just great fun to see him honored in this way. He’s Mr. National. Everybody known.

Harper’s current team was visiting, so the two-time NL MVP was there, perched on the top step of the dugout on Saturday, cheering along with the crowd who repeatedly gave Zimmerman a standing ovation.

Several other former teammates, all since retired, were also in attendance, praising the man of the hour, including Jayson Werth – “One of the main reasons I came to Washington was Ryan Zimmerman; without him, this franchise is a different place” — and Ian Desmond — “The time, effort and energy he put into the organization; loyalty through it all” – featuring Daniel Murphy, Danny Espinosa, Adam LaRoche, Brian Schneider, Gio Gonzalez and more.

“He is a special young man. All class,” said Mark Lerner, the principal owner who is considering selling the Nationals. “People appreciate that he’s stuck with a franchise his entire career. He’s a Lifetime National.

Many former teammates offered their best wishes during a tribute video during pregame festivities on the field, while another video featured narration from Zimmerman’s wife and parents.

Zimmerman, holding one of his two sons, threw the ceremonial first pitch of the game – caught by his father – as his two daughters shouted, “Play ball!” before the real first pitch was thrown by Josiah Gray.

As for the number that will never again be worn by a player for the Nationals? Zimmerman said it happened by accident.

As a kid, he wore No. 1 — not because of a major leaguer, but because of 1990s NBA All-Star Anfernee “Penny” Hardaway, his favorite basketball player. It turned out to be a classmate from Virginia, Matt Dunn.

“They gave me 11, just by chance. I wasn’t going to ask for anything as a freshman in college, so I just thought, ‘Okay. Well, that’s pretty cool. I used to be ‘1’, now I’m ’11,'” Zimmerman said. “So boring story, but that’s the way it is.”

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