When the Washington Nationals begin their five game playoff series this weekend, it will mark the first postseason game for almost every player on the teams young roster. Most have never played meaningful games in October, but for a choice few who have seen the franchise at its lowest points the dream perhaps seemed even further away.
Ryan Zimmerman was the franchises first draft pick when they moved to Washington, D.C. and through years of losing twice signed contract extensions to stay with the club. He opted to stay loyal at times he could have jumped ship and instead trusted the vision and future of the team around him.
The odds were in my favor that I was going to win here at some point. I love this town. They gave me a chance, took a chance on me at a young age, and put me right in the middle of it, he said.
For the team to take a chance on me like that, I felt obligated. I thought I should stay here and give them what they gave me, which is my career.
Zimmerman debuted in 2005 and in just eight seasons has been on five different teams that lost 89 games or more. Along the way he has seen a lot of the guys around him come and go. He is still the face of the franchise, but now that franchise boasts the best pitching staff in baseball and a lineup as young and as talented as any.
Ryan Zimmerman is the leader. He is the captain of this organization, Gio Gonzalez said. He is the face of this organization, he is a franchise guy. He has seen the down and now he is definitely seeing the upside of it.
Jordan Zimmermann joined the organization as a second round draft pick in 2007 and made the major league team in 2009. In his first year the team lost 103 games, but since has improved by at least ten wins in three consecutive seasons. In a short period of time he has seen the team bottom out as the worst team in baseball and then rise to potentially its best.
We came a long way. When I first got drafted and came up here, we were losing ballgames it seemed like every night, he said.
You gotta give a lot of credit to Rizzo for putting some guys together and then having some good drafts.
For part of the turnaround, Zimmermann had to watch from the dugout while he underwent a year-long recovery from Tommy John surgery. He has been pivotal in the teams transformation and is excited to see where it can be taken from here.
Now were here and were that much closer, he said.
John Lannan was away from the team for much of this season after once being its de facto ace and making two Opening Day starts in 2008 and 2009. He joined them late this year after spending much of the season in Triple-A Syracuse and is now just appreciative he is here to stay.
Right now, its all worth it. Being down in Syracuse and then being here right now, its all worth it, he said.
There was a time earlier on in the season where I didnt know what was going to happen, but now it all makes sense. This is why everything happened.
Lannan was on two Nats teams that lost more than 100 games - 102 in 2008 and 103 in 2009 - and has seen the fanbase grow with the teams success.
Just to be part of this team now and to be a part of the teams that really struggled, we all wanted it. But now to celebrate it and really enjoy it is really awesome, he said.
These fans deserve it, these guys deserve it, its been a long road but we knew this time was going to come. It is special.