Among Washington Nationals fans, MLB slugger Ryan Zimmerman has earned a reputation for getting the job done. With over 250 career homers, 11 of which were game-winning walk-offs, he is in an elite group of clutch hitters. It’s memorable moments like these that make Zimmerman a hometown favorite. To keep his cool at the plate, he remembers the other guy is in a worse position than him. “I’ve always thought ‘the pitcher is in more trouble than me. He’s in a situation where he can lose the game,’” says Zimmerman.
Zimmerman’s long career has its peaks and valleys. Perhaps none is more dramatic than his final amateur season with the 2004 USA Baseball National Team. Despite an impressive personal performance, where he led the team in batting average (.468) and every other meaningful at-bat stat, Mexico shocked the world by denying Zimmerman and the U.S. a spot in the Olympics that year.
Zimmerman joined the Nats as they arrived in D.C. from Montreal in 2005 and never left. In an era of itinerant ballplayers, few spend their entire career with the same franchise, and throughout some recent challenges, Nats fans have shown Zimmerman the same loyalty. “Coming down from Montreal, not having owners, playing in an old football stadium, I was there from the beginning when times were not that great. Now, every year we’re expected to compete for the World Series, so it’s been a fun ride for me,” he says.
Beyond baseball, Zimmerman counts food, wine, and, more recently, whiskey among his passions. “I’m fairly new to [whiskey] and the last few years I’ve gotten into it a little bit more,” he says. “I have two little girls now, and after we put the girls to bed I have one or two. It’s fun to try different stuff and I find it relaxing,” he says.
Stepping outside the batter’s box, Zimmerman is a partner in The Salt Line, a New England-style fish house situated on the waterfront next to Nationals Park. Since he’s partial to bourbon, one of his duties included traveling to Kentucky to help create a private bottling of Woodford Reserve for The Salt Line. “I learned a ton. Everyone knows how it’s made, but you don’t really know until you see the process and what an art it is. I have a newfound respect for how they make bourbon,” says Zimmerman.
Whiskey tasting has become a bit of a team endeavor for the Nats. “There are a couple other guys on the team that enjoy it, so a lot of times we’ll have a bottle on the plane. We all bring something new to share. Tanner Roark, one of the pitchers on our team [Roark left the Nationals in 2019], is really into it, so he kind of leads me in the right direction. That’s the fun thing about bourbon and whiskey, you can try a bunch and kind of compare,” he says.
Few things are more American than baseball and bourbon, and Zimmerman finds most of his favorites in the U.S., including Woodford Reserve, Jefferson’s Reserve, Old Forester, “pretty much anything from Buffalo Trace,” and High West, adding he’s open to the occasional Midleton, which fits his favorite profile of sweeter, honeyed whiskey. Not only does the team debate their favorite whiskeys, but also how to drink them. “They make fun of me because I like a little bit of ice in mine. I can do neat, but I just enjoy it more with a little ice,” says Zimmerman.
His baseball playing and whiskey drinking careers reached new heights in 2019 when the Washington Nationals defeated the Houston Astros for their first-ever World Series title. Zimmerman celebrated with a trip to the Woodford Reserve distillery in Kentucky, where he and a group of friends spent the weekend tasting and selecting their own personal barrel of bourbon. Zimmerman says he plans to gift a bottle to each of his teammates as well as to the friends who accompanied him to Kentucky.
Zimmerman looks set to continue his winning streak in 2020, which will be his 16th season with the Nationals. The ball typically leaves his bat around 94 mph, one of the highest exit velocities in baseball. When he connects, good things happen—so let’s keep that whiskey flowing.
Who: Ryan Zimmerman, first baseman, Washington Nationals
Favorite Style: Bourbon
Go-To Whiskeys: Woodford Reserve, Jefferson’s Reserve, Buffalo Trace, High West
Special Occasion: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon
How He Drinks: A little ice
In the News: The ziMS Foundation, founded by Ryan Zimmerman, is dedicated to the treatment and ultimate cure of multiple sclerosis and has contributed nearly $3.5 million to the cause.
This story was updated on 11/12/19.