“How ‘bout that?” Rizzo said. “This is as good as it gets for an old player development guy like me.”
Desmond won’t play in Tuesday’s All-Star Game because of a sore left oblique he fears worsening and keeping him out of an exciting second half. But his ascension to elite status and his All-Star designation remains. The faith of an organization rewarded.
“I don’t know if anybody with an opinion that matters ever thought [we should give up on him],” Zimmerman said. “People forget that Ian’s still very young. He was learning at this level, and any time you learn up here it’s tough. Your mistakes are magnified. Fans, or people who don’t really have the most knowledge of the situation, don’t understand that he’s still becoming a better player. They only see what’s in front of them.
“I think that’s why a lot of people were so quick to say ‘Trade this guy.’ Because they don’t have the eye to see how much he has to offer if he were to figure it out. I can see why people would say what they said, but I don’t think anyone in here ever felt that way.”
* * *
When the Nationals first added Desmond to their roster in September 2009, he spent a few days in the majors before he called his mom and his agent and told them he wanted to go back to the minors. “I don’t want to be a big leaguer,” were his words.
It was a different time in Nationals history; a team far less composed of homegrown talent and more littered with aging mercenaries mired in a losing culture.
“I was frustrated,” Desmond said. “Because all I ever dreamed about was what the big leagues would be like. … Then I got called up and it was like every man for himself.”
Gone were the nine-hour bus rides filled with card games and stories, the friendships he’d spent years developing. Players would leave the clubhouse so quickly most would be gone before reporters entered for postgame interviews.
Gone, too, was Desmond’s sense of place. In the minors, he always hit in the top of the order and played short. In his first two major league seasons, Desmond started 282 games at shortstop but hit in every spot in the lineup.
That changed this year. Desmond has started 82 of the team’s 83 games and hit only first, fifth or sixth. He hit leadoff for the first 39 games until his .451 slugging percentage at the time made it ridiculous for him not to be in a better position to drive in runs.
He worried his first two seasons about his status in the major leagues and on his team. This season he does not. He changed his number from the team-issued No. 6 to Frank Robinson’s No. 20. He’s finding his way around D.C. and exploring more than he ever has.
There is plenty he wants to improve on, such as strike zone recognition and consistently playing Gold Glove defense, as he works toward winning a World Series. He brushes off the first-half accolades because they won’t mean much if the team doesn’t maintain its pace. But he embraces his role as a leader in the infield and a clubhouse filled with homegrown players. With more than three years left on his rookie contract, he talks about spending his entire career in a Nationals uniform.
He’s an All-Star. The major league shortstop for a bona fide playoff contender. The work of so many borne out in the season they all knew he could have.
“As long as I have a jersey on my back, I’ll be happy,” Desmond said. “I think if it’s a Washington Nationals jersey, I’ll be happier.