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Ryan Zimmerman, long the face of the Washington Nationals, announces his retirement

Ryan Zimmerman announced his retirement Tuesday. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

Ryan Zimmerman, the first draft selection in Washington Nationals history and a longtime franchise pillar — from the lean days at RFK Stadium to the still-burning glory of a World Series title in 2019 — announced his retirement Tuesday. And he is going out on his own terms.

The 37-year-old hangs it up with quite the résumé: more home runs (284), hits (1,846), RBI (1,061) and games played (1,799) in a Nationals uniform than any other player. Eleven walk-off homers, including the one that christened Nationals Park in 2008. Seventeen years with the same team, a feat of its own, achieving what Zimmerman loved about one of his idols, Cal Ripken Jr., whose name and face are synonymous with an entire organization.

More than anything, that’s what Zimmerman built in Washington. That’s the legacy he leaves behind.

“At this point in my career, it’s not about making money,” he said. “It’s more the weighing of how much time it takes for me to put in the stuff behind the scenes that lets me still be successful on the field that people don’t really know about. And it’s worth it if you have a chance to win the World Series.

“For me, with the four kids at home now, it’s kind of like: I’ve accomplished a lot. I’ve accomplished more than I’ve ever wanted to accomplish. At this point, do I really have the 100 percent drive and commitment to do all the extracurricular stuff that I expect of myself to play the game?”

In his final season, Zimmerman was a part-time first baseman who made 110 appearances, smacked 14 homers and never went on the injured list. His production was above average by league standards. He seemed to have more left.

Svrluga: Ryan Zimmerman: Face of the Franchise, Mr. Walk-Off, Washington’s forever

But as the year wound down, and after the Nationals pressed the reset button at the trade deadline, Zimmerman could glimpse the other side. He wasn’t sure of his decision when the season finale arrived. The night before, while bracing for whatever the team had planned, he told his wife, Heather, that he didn’t want to accept the adoration of an entire city and then change his mind.

“I don’t know if I want to do anything tomorrow,” Zimmerman remembered telling her. “If I end up coming back and they do something for me, I’ll feel like an idiot.”

“And she was kind of like, ‘Listen, it’s not your fault that you don’t know,’ ” Zimmerman continued. “She basically told me if you don’t do something … because she’s so much more connected through social media and the heartbeat of people in the stands and honestly just the fans than I am. She has a better sense of that than I do, just because I don’t do that kind of stuff. … ‘You know what, Ryan? Think about it: It wouldn’t be for you; it would be for them.’ ”

From the archives: Ryan Zimmerman became the face of the Nationals. This is how he started.

So before the eighth inning at Nationals Park on Oct. 3, Manager Dave Martinez pulled Zimmerman and left him standing between the dugout and first base line, the whole field his. The crowd stood and screamed. Zimmerman cracked, mouthing “thank you” over and over through a stream of tears.

After the game, as daylight faded, Zimmerman and his family chatted and took photos by the pitcher’s mound. He still had his uniform on. His daughters ran the bases, taking the same route their dad did after crushing a three-run shot in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019. That swing extended a season that eventually stretched to the pinnacle of the sport. This moment capped a career that did the same.

“I have the unique opportunity to actually be around,” said Zimmerman, who lives in Northern Virginia with Heather and their children. “My parents … my mom was a teacher; my dad worked two jobs sometimes. My dad would work till 10, 10:30 at night and then would be at work at 6 o’clock the next morning. So I wouldn’t see him when I got home from school, and he’d be gone before I woke up for school.

“You do what you have to do for your family. And I think the more I thought about it, I’m in such a unique position to be around for some very important times while my kids are younger, and that just seems I guess more important than years 18, 19 and 20 of major league baseball. Would I say the same thing if we didn’t win the World Series in 2019? I don’t know. It’s nice that we did win. It’s hard to think about not. I think that was huge — everyone plays for that. As far as being nervous or being comfortable with my decision, I think my family deserves finally having me around. And not only having me around but having me present.”

From 2005: Nats' First Choice Is U-Va.'s Zimmerman

On the field, Zimmerman went from precocious third baseman — debuting less than three months after he was drafted out of the University of Virginia — to an all-star (twice), to an injury-plagued veteran, then a reliable bat and clubhouse leader. Off the field, he and Heather run the ziMS Foundation, raising money for the treatment of multiple sclerosis, a disease Zimmerman’s mother, Cheryl, was diagnosed with in 1995.

Zimmerman was never a player who sought or bathed in the spotlight. A rare break from that was in November 2019, when he spoke at the team’s White House ceremony hosted by President Donald Trump, thanking the president “for keeping everyone here safe in our country and continuing to make America the greatest country to live in in the world.” Zimmerman received swift backlash from a portion of the fan base.

His contract and proximity to D.C. mean he will not be going far. Written into one of Zimmerman’s extensions was a five-year personal services contract that could take a number of forms. Zimmerman sees it as a “perfect transition” into the next phase of his life.

“If I have a free afternoon or maybe once a month I pop over to one of those [nearby minor league] teams,” Zimmerman said. “I get there at 11 or 12, hang out with the guys, tell them you can ask me anything you want, stay for the game and then drive back home.

“Whether I sit in some of the front office meetings and talk to some of the people and let them know little things that I think that they could do better from a player’s standpoint that maybe they don’t think are a big deal but are a big deal for players. Whether I do some TV. Whether I do some radio. It gives me a buffer or a transition period to try out a lot of different things and find out what I like. And more importantly, find out if I’m any good at any of it.”

Otherwise, Zimmerman will be at home to raise his kids, on the golf course to polish his game and in an area that will celebrate him forever. Close to two decades in one place will have that effect.

“I’ll go to the grocery store, and everyone stops me and says, like, ‘Thank you for this,’ or, ‘Thank you for that,’ or, ‘Thank you for being a good role model,’ ” Zimmerman said. “… I feel like I don’t know why you’re thanking me — all I did was play baseball. I got to play baseball for a job. That’s the best way to put it. I shouldn’t be being thanked. I feel like I should be thanking them.”

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