- The Washington Times - Monday, July 6, 2009

When Ryan Zimmerman was summoned to the manager’s office Sunday morning at Nationals Park, his first reaction was one of fear.

“I thought I was in trouble,” the 24-year-old third baseman said.

Zimmerman should know what’s going on the next time he gets that tap on the shoulder on the first Sunday in July. It means he’s going to the All-Star Game, which the Washington Nationals expect to become a regular occurrence for the face of their franchise.

“I hope this is just the start of a stretch of maybe 10 or 15 years for him,” manager Manny Acta said.

Selected for the first time in his four-year career, Zimmerman will represent Washington and serve as the backup third baseman on the National League roster. And though it’s a long shot, he could be joined in St. Louis on July 14 by teammate Cristian Guzman, one of five NL players up for the “final man” online vote.

Guzman and outfielder Adam Dunn also were candidates, but Zimmerman emerged thanks to the vote of his fellow major league players, who selected him to back up childhood friend David Wright of the New York Mets.

“That’s the ultimate amount of respect that you can get from the people you play with, for them to vote you in,” said Zimmerman, who finished third in fan voting behind Wright and Atlanta’s Chipper Jones. “Obviously the fans mean everything to this game. But to be voted in by the people you play against day in and day out, those are the guys you want to have the utmost respect for you.”

Zimmerman’s candidacy was buoyed by the headlines he made in April and May during a 30-game hitting streak that remains the longest this season. Though he has cooled off considerably, Zimmerman will head to the Midsummer Classic with strong numbers: a .293 average, 13 homers and 47 RBI through Sunday.

He’ll also head to St. Louis as the most recognizable player on the Nationals’ roster, and the five-year, $45 million contract he signed earlier this season signaled he’ll remain in the District for some time.

“I think a lot of the guys were pulling for him because of that,” Acta said. “Zimmerman is essential for us. He was put in the spotlight this season because of the hit streak, and he is our franchise player. So it was very important that he got the All-Star Game selection.”

Zimmerman said he doesn’t know quite what to expect when he arrives in St. Louis. He plans to bring as many family members as he can to Busch Stadium and soak in as much of the experience as possible.

“Try and do everything you can because you might not ever get to do it again,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen. Take advantage of it, enjoy it and have fun.”

Zimmerman became the sixth Nationals player to make the All-Star team since baseball returned to the District five years ago, joining Chad Cordero and Livan Hernandez (2005), Alfonso Soriano (2006), Dmitri Young (2007) and Guzman (2008).

Guzman would make his second straight (and third overall) All-Star appearance if he beats out the Dodgers’ Matt Kemp, the Diamondbacks’ Mark Reynolds, the Giants’ Pablo Sandoval and the Phillies’ Shane Victorino in an online vote for the final roster spot that runs until 4 p.m. Thursday.

“Vote him in, fans,” Acta said. “We’re trying to rally our troops down in the Dominican Republic. But we’re only 9 million people and probably don’t have as many computers. But we’re trying to get him in, too.”

Guzman, who is batting .318, didn’t sound eager to win the spot.

“I don’t care if I go or not go,” he said. “I’ve gone twice already. That’s too many going over there. I want to take my three days off and have a very good second half.”

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