University of Virginia: UVA Baseball Coach Brian O’Connor Says Ryan Zimmerman Was a One of a Kind

No player in the history of the Washington Nationals’ franchise has played in more games, amassed more hits, hit more home runs or doubles, scored more runs or knocked in more runs than former University of Virginia baseball star Ryan Zimmerman.

But this isn’t what UVA head coach Brian O’Connor says he is most proud of when it comes to Zimmerman, the former Cavalier star who retired Tuesday after a 17-year career in D.C.

“I always say that you can tell a lot about these professional athletes who are playing at the highest level [by whether] they make their community better – and you can certainly say that about Ryan,” O’Connor said during a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Davenport Field at Disharoon Park. “In 17 years in Washington, D.C., he helped make his community better. What better thing to say about somebody?

“[And] through his ziMS Foundation, he’s raised a lot of awareness and a lot of money [for multiple sclerosis] that went directly to the UVA Hospital. I know he’s passionate about it, and it’s tied to his mother – and he’s just immersed himself in that. It’s made an impact in this community and on a lot of people.”

Before going on to star with the Washington Nationals, Ryan Zimmerman was an All-America third baseman at UVA.
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After a standout career at UVA, the Nationals made Zimmerman their first-ever draft pick after moving the franchise from Montreal, taking him in the first round of the 2005 Major League Baseball Draft. He proceeded to play his entire career with the same team – something that is a rarity in today’s world of professional sports. In the history of baseball, only 57 players have spent a career of at least 16 seasons with the same team.

“The fact that 88 days after wearing our [UVA] uniform on this field, he makes his Major League debut and stays there for 17 years – it’s just really unheard of,” O’Connor said. “And then it’s how he did it. Ryan Zimmerman is all class in everything that he does – the way that he played the game on the field, his leadership, his poise that he played with.”

In 2016, Zimmerman donated $1 million to the Virginia Athletics Foundation in support of the UVA baseball program. He had previously donated $250,000 toward the renovation of the team’s clubhouse, and the team’s indoor hitting facility bears his name.

“I am proud to be a Cavalier and would not be the person or player I am today without my experiences at the University of Virginia,” Zimmerman said at the time.

Zimmerman was a member of the inaugural class inducted into the Virginia Baseball Hall of Fame in January 2018.

From the get-go, O’Connor said he knew he had something special.

“He was an incredibly hard worker and gifted, but I always speak to the presence he had,” O’Connor said. “There was a calming presence that I thought he always played with. And when he was here at Virginia, it rubbed off on his peers.

“He was just such a great leader – whether it was here or with the Nationals. To see him be the first draft pick of that organization and then have it come full circle and win a world championship I think just speaks to the person he is and his leadership ability.”

Zimmerman, who helped lead the Nationals to their first World Series title in 2019 – he hit the first World Series home run in team history – texted O’Connor and assistant coach Kevin McMullan Monday night to thank them for everything they had done, and to let them know that he would be announcing his retirement.

“I know he’s looking forward to the next chapter in his life,” O’Connor said.

If it’s anything like the last one, it figures to be a page-turner.


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