- The Washington Times
Friday, August 1, 2008

>I#n the press release announcing Washington Nationals outfielder Lastings Milledge’s visit Wednesday to a Northern Virginia sports camp, the club included a statement.

“TheWashington Nationals are committed to providing programs that enhance education, increase participation in youth baseball and softball, while improving the quality of life in the local communities of the District of Columbia, Northern Virginia, and Maryland,” the statement read.

The organization is committed to community relations and deserves praise for its efforts.

Some Nationals players, though, are a little more committed than others.

Turns out the “faces of the franchise” - at least the ones fans see at community events or signing autographs at the ballpark - are Joel Hanrahan and John Lannan, based on appearances for the first half of the season.

What about Ryan Zimmerman, the Nationals star often identified by the media and others as the “face of the franchise”?

He’s more like the ghost of the franchise when it comes to team-sponsored events and appearances.

Listed among the activities that Nationals players participated in are school visits, camp and clinic appearances, Sunday autograph sessions at Nationals Park, meet and greets at the ballpark, ESPN Q&As and anything else the team’s community relations department asks the players to do to interact with the public.

Lannan and Hanrahan each made seven appearances at those kind of events.

“They always know I will say yes if no one else will do it,” Hanrahan said. “It’s not going to hurt me to spend an hour or two out of my day to go out there and help out some kids or something. I like doing it. Being there brings a smile to people’s faces. Last year I did one, and I don’t think anyone even knew who I was but they still enjoyed it. We had a good time, talking and signing autographs.”

Milledge made six such appearances in the first half of the year, and Wednesday’s camp session puts him at seven.

Zimmerman, according to the Nationals statistics, made two in the first half of this year - an appearance at “A Night Among Stars,” a charity date auction to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a meet-and-greet at Nationals Park with a patient from the Children’s National Medical Center suffering from brain tumors.

Zimmerman does charitable work. It’s well known that he established the ziMS Foundation to help find a cure for multiple sclerosis, the disease from which his mother suffers.

It’s startling, however, to see that he has done no autograph sessions, clinics or other appearances, save for those two. Among current Nationals players who have been on the roster since the start of the season, only Ronnie Belliard, Jesus Colome and Paul Lo Duca did less in that time period. Lo Duca made no appearances, though he did recently participate in a clinic.

Zimmerman, who is represented by an agent connected to the high-powered and high-profile Creative Artists Agency, said the lack of participation in autograph sessions is nothing personal - just business.

“Some guys have certain autograph deals and such where they are not allowed to go out and sign,” he said. “You have people who pay a player a certain amount of money to autograph things that only they send them and they sell. It’s part of the business side of it, I guess. That’s the main reason why I don’t do autograph stuff.”

As for other team community relations events, Zimmerman said, “I do plenty in the community. There are plenty of other people on the team, too, that can do that stuff. I think that part of the community relations plan is not to have just me go out and do everything. I think the community needs to learn about the other guys on the team and not just have one person go out every time and do that kind of stuff.”

Team president Stan Kasten, who has made clear that the club considers these events a priority for players, said they have no problem with Zimmerman’s commitment to team-sponsored activities.

“I have been asked about him being the face of the franchise,” Kasten said. “I am really insistent that we have 25 faces. It is not good for the team to have one face, and it is really unfair to him. So, yes, we do make a point of having different guys. But in Ryan’s case, he does a lot with ziMS Foundation, and God bless him, we cooperate with that because it is such a great cause. I have no ax to grind with Ryan. I think he is great.”

No one is saying he is not.

But contract talks between the Nats and Zimmerman this winter went nowhere, finally resulting in a low-ball offer ($465,000) to Zimmerman for this season - about one-third the amount the club wound up paying Rob Mackowiak for 38 games before he was released.

That being the case, every nuance of the relationship between the Nationals and Zimmerman is worth watching.

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