Cavalier Corner

Dec. 2019

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DECEMBER 2019 25 BY DAVID DRIVER S ean Doolittle walked down the steps of a Delta airplane carry- ing a light saber, a nod to his infatuation with all things "Star Wars." A few minutes earlier Ryan Zimmerman and his wife, Heather, took a photo on the chartered plane with the shiny World Series trophy on the flight back from Houston. Then Zimmerman carried the trophy down the steps while Nationals fans waited to celebrate. Doolittle and Zimmerman — the for- mer Virginia teammates — touched down at Dulles International Airport with other members of the Washington Nationals to begin a party in early November that had not been seen in the nation's capital for a Major League Baseball team in 95 years. It was the first World Series victory for the franchise that moved from Montreal prior to the 2005 season. "It's been fun to be a part of," Zimmer- man said. "It's been fun to grow with the fans, with the neighborhood, with the com- munity, with the organization." Zimmerman started all seven games of the World Series, while Doolittle had two saves with an ERA of 1.74 in nine playoff appearances in October. A former all-star third baseman, Zim- merman made the move to first base after dealing with shoulder problems and hit .274 with two homers and seven RBI in the play- offs this year. Zimmerman was part of the Nationals teams that fell in the National League Divi- sion Series four times between 2012 and 2017 after losing at least 100 games on two occasions in the 2000s. "You're really talking about '08 to '12 — four years of growth for an organization to then be expected to make the playoffs," he said. "And then all of a sudden if you don't get past the first round of the playoffs, you're a huge disappointment. "If you play at this level, that's kind of the expectations you want. You want your fans to be disappointed if you don't make the playoffs. But it all happened very fast." Doolittle was a first-round pick out of Virginia in 2007 by the Oakland A's af- ter playing first base and pitching for the Cavaliers. He switched to pitching full-time in 2011, made his Major League Baseball debut with Oakland the next year and was traded to the Nationals during the 2017 season. Doolittle helped form a strong back end of the bullpen for the Nationals down the stretch. "This group has so much fun playing together and fighting together," Doolittle said during the playoff run on the Nationals' radio flagship station 106.7 The Fan. "Let's keep it going. I know a lot of people counted us out in May, but we stuck together as a group. "This is a special group, and I'm just re- ally proud to be a part of it." Zimmerman, who is from Virginia Beach and attended Kellam High, was drafted out of Virginia in the first round by the Nation- als in 2005 and made his Major League Baseball debut later that year. Among the 270 homers he has hit with the Nationals was a walk-off blast against the Atlanta Braves in the first game at Nationals Park in 2008. In the World Series against the Houston Astros, Zimmerman was playing first base in game seven on Oct. 30, when Michael Brantley of the Astros struck out for the final out of the World Series. The Nationals' title came just months after members of the Virginia men's bas- ketball team came to Nationals Park and brought with them the trophy from the 2019 NCAA title. Both Zimmerman and Doolittle are fans of basketball and, obviously, the Cavaliers. Zimmerman gave a lot of credit to Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' general manager since 2009. "I think Mike's a baseball guy. He leans on his scouts, on his guys that go watch games," Zimmerman said. "He's evolved like everyone else has with the analytics and all the data that's available. That informa- tion is useful. "I don't think you have to be one way or the other. I think you can kind of blend it together. And I think he does a really good job of that. "He's huge on chemistry and clubhouse stuff, not bringing in bad teammates, not bringing in bad guys," Zimmerman added of Rizzo. "Before he makes moves, he'll reach out to us and ask if we've heard anything about this player or that player. He's big on that kind of stuff. "When you get that blend of talent and guys who are in it for the right things, you get special groups." Zimmerman played at Virginia from 2003-05 and overlapped one season with Doolittle, who was there from 2005-07. The Cavaliers are the only college baseball program to have a player appear in the past four World Series, and Zimmerman and Doolittle became the seventh and eighth former Virginia standouts to take part in the Fall Classic. They were teammates on the NCAA Re- gional team in 2005 and were part of the first UVA Baseball Hall of Fame class in 2018. Doolittle was an All-American and the 2006 ACC Player of the Year, while Zimmerman became the first Virginia prod- uct to appear in an MLB All-Star Game in 2009. Editor's note: David Driver covered the Nationals as the beat writer for The Wash- ington Times in 2018-19. Prior to that he covered the team for five years for a na- tional content provider, and he has covered college baseball in Virginia for 25 years. He can be reached at @DaytonVaDriver and CHAMPS Former Wahoos Ryan Zimmerman And Sean Doolittle Helped Bring A World Series Trophy To Washington CAVALIERS IN THE WORLD SERIES ALL TIME 2019 — Ryan Zimmerman* (Nationals) and Sean Doolittle* (Nationals) 2018 — Chris Taylor (Dodgers) 2017 — Derek Fisher* (Astros) and Chris Taylor (Dodgers) 2016 — Brandon Guyer (Indians) 2014 — Javier Lopez* (Giants) 2012 — Javier Lopez* (Giants) 2010 — Javier Lopez* (Giants) 2007 — Javier Lopez* (Red Sox) 1987 — Ricky Horton (Cardinals) 1985 — Ricky Horton (Cardinals) 1915 — Eppa Rixey (Phillies) * World Series champion

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