Ryan Zimmerman has a lot left to give, both as a major league player and as a benefactor of the University of Virginia’s baseball program.
At just 31, the Washington Nationals first baseman is playing in his 12th big league season. And last winter, he made his second significant gift to UVA baseball.
Zimmerman (Col ’06) committed $1 million to the Virginia Athletics Foundation to help fund the planned expansion and additions to Davenport Field. It is the largest gift to the University from an active athlete alumnus or alumna. The 14-year-old facility already features an indoor batting area named for Zimmerman, thanks to his donation of $250,000 in 2009.
“I love seeing them do well, and I hope I can contribute to them continuing to do well for years to come,” Zimmerman wrote in an email of coach Brian O’Connor’s Cavaliers, the defending NCAA champions.
O’Connor says he hopes that Zimmerman’s gift will kick-start fundraising for a variety of embellishments to Davenport Field.
Initial architectural renderings show the bleachers along the right-field line in the 5,000-seat stadium replaced with permanent chairback seats. Other improvements would include additional private suites above the concourse as well as field-level club seating.
Improvements for the team would include new coaches’ offices and extra player-development areas beneath the grandstands. The final cost and timeline for the work are still to be determined, and like all capital projects, the expansion plan is subject to University review and approval.
In the past few years, UVA has climbed in the national rankings of college baseball attendance, and that “makes a difference in recruiting,” O’Connor says. “So we need to look at where we want this facility to be in five or 10 years. It was built 14 years ago, and we’ve continued to make adjustments and improvements to make it the best possible experience for our fans and our players.”
O’Connor says it is gratifying—and valuable—that Zimmerman, the fourth pick in the 2005 amateur draft, will play a significant role in Davenport Field’s next phase.
“It sends a message to recruits, fans and other donors when the most heralded player from our program is 100 percent engaged in what’s going on here,” O’Connor says.
Zimmerman’s loyalty to O’Connor and his longtime assistants Kevin McMullan and Karl Kuhn began when Zimmerman played for them in 2004, the staff’s first year at UVA.
Zimmerman, an All-American third baseman at the University, said he has watched with pride as that staff built the program into a national champion. “The main thing that impresses me is the way they treat the kids, really, as men,” writes Zimmerman. “They make them make decisions and help them grow up.
“The University and the people there had a significant hand in building the foundation of my career. I want to be sure that they’re in a position to do the same for whoever comes next.”