Zimmerman's Virginia Competitor

Ryan Zimmerman, right, is congratulated by Austin Kearns after hitting a home run in the Nationals' 9-6 exhibition victory. Zimmerman and the Mets' David Wright, both third basemen, grew up in the Tidewater area.
Ryan Zimmerman, right, is congratulated by Austin Kearns after hitting a home run in the Nationals' 9-6 exhibition victory. Zimmerman and the Mets' David Wright, both third basemen, grew up in the Tidewater area. (By Julie Jacobson -- Associated Press)

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By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 13, 2007

VIERA, Fla., March 12 -- Ryan Zimmerman stood on third base Monday afternoon at Space Coast Stadium, his second double of the day behind him. David Wright, who already had a hit of his own, walked over. The pair fell into conversation, just as they had during batting practice, just as they do from time to time in the offseason, just as they did seven years ago when they played alongside each other as teenagers.

Zimmerman is the third baseman for the Washington Nationals, and he is 22. Wright is the third baseman for the New York Mets, and he is 24. And if each of their clubs has its way, scenes like that -- Zimmerman and Wright, meeting at third and chatting -- will play out a couple dozen times a year for the next decade or more. Need up-to-the-minute evidence? On Monday, Wright singled three times in three at-bats. Zimmerman one-upped him, just as if they were competing in the gym back home, hitting those two doubles and a towering home run in the Nationals' 9-6 victory.

For those keeping score on a perfect spring day, that's a combined 6 for 6.

"We never talked about it then," Wright said before the game. "But it's pretty amazing to think of now."

There is, apparently, something in the Tidewater area of Virginia that allows elite athletes to grow like kudzu. The list is nearly endless, from Lawrence Taylor to Michael Vick in football, from Allen Iverson to Alonzo Mourning in basketball, from boxers such as Pernell "Sweet Pea" Whitaker to, recently, a host of baseball players.

Zimmerman, who grew up in Virginia Beach, and Wright, who was raised in nearby Chesapeake, are part of a wave of players and prospects on their way to stardom now. It wasn't enough that they played together on their travel team in the fall of 2000. B.J. Upton -- who became the second overall pick in the 2002 draft -- toggled between second and shortstop with Zimmerman.

"It's scary to think," Nationals Manager Manny Acta said.

The debate in the National League East now is who will be better this year, next year, five years from now, when their careers are over. Florida's Miguel Cabrera is a more explosive offensive player than either Wright or Zimmerman, but there's no telling how long he'll play third, no guarantee how long the Marlins will be able to hold onto him. Zimmerman and Wright, it seems, could be linked in perpetuity.

"I think we both like where we're at," Zimmerman said, "and it's kind of fun to think about facing each other so much."

But think also about the Tidewater Orioles, the traveling team coached by Lee Banks back when Wright and Zimmerman were in high school. Then, Wright was the prospect, a year ahead of Zimmerman and more fully developed. The following spring, he was taken by the team he rooted for as a child, the Mets, in the first round.

Zimmerman wasn't anywhere near that level of prospect at that time.

"He was small," Wright said. "You could tell he had a good approach at the plate and good tools, but he just wasn't the physical guy he is now."


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