HOTSEAT- In like 'Zim:' Cavalier turned Major Leaguer gears up for '09 season

Ryan Zimmerman

When the Washington Nationals play their home opener in April, many in the crowd are guaranteed to be wearing Ryan Zimmerman jerseys. As the team's starting third baseman and one of its most consistent hitters, Zimmerman has become a fan favorite. 

Becoming a Major League star may have seemed unlikely when Zimmerman arrived to play baseball on the Grounds of UVA as a first-year in 2001. 

"I wasn't really recruited that much," concedes Zimmerman, who, by his own admission, was a rather green prospect when he first donned the Cavalier orange and blue.

"I enjoyed baseball, but I really had no clue," says Zimmerman. "I could field okay, but I hadn't really grown into my body yet. I was still pretty goofy at the plate."

What a difference four years and some serious exercise can make.

At the end of his four years, the infielder became a bona fide UVA superstar with a career batting average of .355 (fourth-best in school history) and 140 RBIs (eighth-best all-time). He led the Cavaliers to two NCAA Tournament appearances, and earned All-American honors in 2004 and 2005. 

"I had never really lifted weights until I got to UVA," Zimmerman explains. "I guess I just grew into my body."

By the time of the 2005 Major League Amateur Draft, the Washington Nationals had taken notice and drafted him fourth overall, the highest a Cavalier had ever been selected. Before the year was out, Zimmerman made his Major League debut, and it's an experience he won't soon forget.

"The first time you step up to the plate," says Zimmerman, "your adrenaline gets pumping, and you know immediately you've never done anything like this."

Particularly not against athletes he grew up watching on TV, such as facing down an eventual member of the 3,000 strikeout club.

"I remember the first time I batted against John Smoltz," says Zimmerman. "Having grown up a Braves fan and watching him on TV, going up against him was a thrill."

The rookie jitters didn't take long to wear off. In his first four seasons, he has a batting average of .282, 58 home runs, and 258 RBIs. Though the Nationals were in the cellar of the National League last year, the Tampa Bay Rays' worst-to-first run to the World Series last season has given hope to Zimmerman.

"Tampa Bay is an example to everyone," says Zimmerman. "Baseball's done a great job of making sure there's parity."

Longtime Yankee skipper Yogi Berra once said it ain't over till it's over, and Zimmerman seems to agree: "If you're in the mix with about a month to go, anything can happen."

Age: 24

Why here? You can walk everywhere.

What's worst about living here? Traffic 

Favorite hangout? The Corner

Most overrated virtue? I think they're all pretty legitimate.

People would be surprised to know: I surf a lot.

What would you change about yourself? I'd be more organized.

Proudest accomplishment? Founding the ziMS Foundation, which benefits multiple sclerosis research.

People find most annoying about you: I bite my nails.

Favorite book? I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max

Subject that causes you to rant? Traffic, which is not a good thing for me, since I live in D.C.

Biggest 21st-century thrill? Obama's inauguration was pretty cool.

Biggest 21st-century creep out? No privacy

What do you drive? A GMC Yukon Denali

In your car CD player right now: Everything from Kanye West to Nickelback to Dierks Bentley to Ludacris.

Next journey? I think we're heading to Richmond after this.

Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Once, when my brother was about to beat my high score on Nintendo, I told him the house was on fire.

Favorite comfort food: Ice cream

Always in your refrigerator: Fruit

Must-see TV: Entourage

Describe a perfect day. Sitting on the couch watching movies all day

Who'd play you in the movie? A young George Clooney

Most embarrassing moment? I threw up at the lunch table in middle school once.

Best advice you ever got? Be yourself.

Favorite bumper sticker? I'm a fan of the one with Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes peeing on stuff.