- The Washington Times - Monday, June 27, 2011

The Washington Nationals’ recent run has made for some memorable nights at the ballpark, but Ryan Zimmerman plans to bring sports and entertainment together for a good cause in an unforgettable event of his own.

“A Night at the Park” will be presented at Nationals Park on Thursday by the ziMS Foundation, which Washington’s third baseman started with his brother Shawn. The event raised about $200,000 in its D.C. debut last year.

The ziMS Foundation’s mission is to work toward the cure of Multiple Sclerosis, a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system. Ryan and Shawn’s mother, Cheryl, was diagnosed with MS in 1995. She is one of about 400,000 Americans who suffer from the disease.

“A lot of athletes have foundations, and we’re very fortunate to be able to do what we do,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously to have your mother grow up with something like that … it just seems right to organize things and be able to give back.”

“A Night at the Park” will feature a silent auction, with memorabilia and experiences such as the use of Zimmerman’s sky suite at Nationals Park for a game and a VIP package to this year’s All-Star Game in Phoenix.

Country star Rodney Atkins is the featured performer, and magician David Blaine will do a show for VIP ticket holders. Gar Ryness, also known as the Batting Stance Guy, will be on hand as well.

As part of the program, special check presentations will be made to Dream Makers, an organization benefiting children with a parent suffering from MS, and to the national chapter of the MS Society. The national chapter received a $30,000 check at last year’s fundraiser. The amount of this year’s donation has not been disclosed.

“Last year was the introduction of the foundation to D.C.,” said Brodie Van Wagenen, Zimmerman’s agent at CAA Sports. “This year … it will be less about educating the community on what the foundation is but more what the foundation does with the money it receives.

“That’s why the Dream Makers and national chapter presentations will be a big part of our program.”

Zimmerman said the concert, with only about 1,000 people in attendance, is a one-of-a-kind experience.

“It’s a fun night for me, more than anything else,” Zimmerman said. “I enjoy doing things for the foundation and raising money. In the end, you look back on it and say, ‘I enjoyed going to that, it was a good time, and by the way, we raised so much money.’ It’s just a lot of fun.”

Zimmerman has not set a fundraising goal for the evening except to contribute as much as possible to a cause he cares about deeply.

“I think the goal for every foundation is just to do as much as they can to give back and help,” he said. “Anything that you can do that’s helpful - we want to raise as much money as we can, spread the word as much as we can, but our goal is just to do anything we can to help.”

*A Night at the Park begins at 6 p.m. on Thursday. General admission tickets are $75, with discounts for groups of 10 or more. A limited number of VIP tickets are available for $500. Further details are online at www.anightatthepark.com.