The success of The Blonde Side is due mostly in part to the off-kilter interviews with athletes in the hopes of finding a killer combo of humor, entertainment and of course, sports. Last week while the Washington Nationals were on their last regular season road trip to Houston (as Houston will join the AL West next year), I sat down with Nationals’ third baseman, Ryan Zimmerman for a quick chat.
After giving him some background and telling him I was aiming for “more fun and personable and not so much stats driven” he laughed. “So you picked one of the most boring guys in baseball to interview?” he countered, probably referencing one of his recent accolades as the “least quirky athlete in DC” courtesy of funny man Dan Steinberg and a few other media guys.
“I admit, I’m pretty boring for interviews because whether I’m playing good or bad, I’ve always been taught that you should be the same person, so that’s the way I’ve always dealt with media,” he said. I asked the Virginia Beach native why people had such a boring impression of him. The straight shooter that he is, “Well, because my interviews are pretty boring. Have you listened to them?” he joked.
Immediately, almost in defense of himself, he mentioned his commercials and you could just sense his pride. “These commercials were a chance to show fans I do have a personality, which I do. I have a lot of fun off the field. I really liked the Geico commercial I did with the caveman. I also did one with [Bruce Boudreau] the old Caps coach, and that was the most fun I’ve had with a commercial,” he said in a feeble attempt to reenact his lines before referring me to Google to look it up for myself.
The more he talked about this newfound commercial talent of his, the more excited he got. “I had fun and I think the fans liked it. It’s just so different from what they think I am, which is good I guess.”
Getting back to baseball and the game at hand, Zimmerman admitted he’s going to miss seeing Houston on a regular basis during the season. “I like playing here – it’s a good place to hit,” he said. Not taking the bait on whether he was referencing the short left field wall (315ft) and the Crawford Boxes or the subpar Astros pitching staff, he left it at that. “The stadium is nice and I’m thankful for the air conditioning. It’s a good place to hit,” he reiterated with a grin. In his last 30 at bats at Minute Maid, he’s has hit 7 long balls. Not too shabby.
These days a hot question for athletes focuses around social media, most notably Twitter. Maybe that’s a way to show your fans a bit more personality, I prompt? “No one needs to know what I do everyday – that I wake up and go to the baseball field. We do the same thing everyday. That’s boring right? And the things I do off the field I don’t think people should know. I think there’s a fine line – some complain all they want is a normal life but then they tweet where they go to dinner and you can’t really have it both ways. I think social media is great – it’s helped our game, it’s helped fans get in touch and see what it’s like to be us on a more personal level – more than ever have before. For me, it’s just too much effort. I wouldn’t have enough content to keep it entertaining,” he said.
Zimmerman knows there are guys on his team that would excel at entertaining the Twitterverse, probably the same way they do on road trips, like outfielders Mark DeRosa and Michael Morse. “We’re all pretty bad, but those are the goofiest guys on the team,” Zimmerman admitted. “We just got a new music system for the bus. It obviously plays music but it has a microphone too – DeRosa is like our DJ. When you play games every single day and are constantly on the go and working so hard to win, you need guys like that to keep it loose.”
It may seem bizarre, but at 27, Zimmerman is considered one of the older guys on the team and the Nationals only remaining player from their inaugural roster back in 2005. He has rightly been coined the “face of the Nationals.” At 27, most people still need guidance, but in this D.C. clubhouse, it’s Zimmerman who offers much of it to his younger comrades like Bryce Harper, the “other” Zimmermann and a number of other guys. “I’ve definitely changed over the years. I used to go out more, but now you kind of have to pick your spots. It takes me longer to recover as I’ve gotten older and you have to be smarter. I’m also engaged now, which makes a big difference,” he says about his maturity both on and off the field.
Speaking of being engaged, it’s hard to type “Ryan Zimmerman” into Google without the Internet gods pre-populating “fiancé” prompting photos of the blonde bombshell. Blogs everywhere have taken a liking to calling her one of the hottest (soon to be) wives in MLB and Zimmerman’s smile says it all. “She’s amazing. She knew nothing about sports in the beginning which was great because the last thing we want to do when we get home from a long trip is talk baseball. It’s not easy to be a WAG [Wife and Girlfriend] in this business, obviously traveling as much as we do; it takes a special kind of woman to deal with us. I’m very lucky,” he said.
Another woman Zimmerman can’t stop gushing about? His mother Cheryl, the reason behind starting his 501(c)3, ziMS, which is dedicated to the treatment and ultimate cure of Multiple Sclerosis. Cheryl, who was diagnosed with MS back in 1995, has helped shape Ryan into the man he is today, forcing him to take on responsibilities and roles most sons never do. This foundation has had such a profound impact on Ryan that even his current contract allows him to host his annual gala at the ballpark raising money and awareness for this disease that affects nearly 400,000 Americans.
No one in baseball has produced as many walk-off homers since 2006 as Zimmerman and he currently reigns as the Nationals’ all-time leader in runs (558), hits (1061), 2B (241), HR (144), RBI (564), and games (946).
Simply put, Ryan Zimmerman is a guy who appreciates things like the new reality show Duck Dynasty, surf movies like Blue Crush, the support of great family and fans and the opportunity and privilege to continue his career in a National’s uniform.
Less than animated interviews or not, having just signed a long-term contract extension through 2019, which quite possibly outfits Zimmerman in the same franchise uniform for 14 seasons, calling him the “face of the franchise” surely seems spot on and the interviews well worth it.