Face of the Franchise.
Nats fans have heard this term bandied about when describing Ryan Zimmerman since before his first appearance on the field in 2005. And perhaps his on field play, behavior, and decisions since then have spoiled our judgement when it comes to the what that term actually means. Let's run down what, at least in my mind, makes up a "Face of the Franchise" player.
Home-Grown: A true face of the franchise is not traded for, at least not the major league level. To really become a unilaterally appreciated and adored player, fans need to see the major league debut and watch how he develops as a player and man. Some Faces are acquired at some lower minor league level, but for the most part, these players are identified as special so early on that a trade is unlikely.
All-Star Caliber: While long-term role-players and over-achievers are often times key to long term success and are sometimes wholly embraced by the fan base, to truly define a franchise you need to reach an elite level of play over many years for the franchise.
Team Player/Community Hero: The reason teams often hold these players up as their face is because they embody the spirit of team work and volunteerism while also being dedicated to the team and the area.
Zimmerman's case: Slam dunk. The first pick in Nationals history. A career that will included a litany of accolades, spent in a city close to his home and family. Surrounded by a team of young players he has helped mentor and talented veterans he helped lure in. Already signed through 2019 to a contract that allows the team flexibility right now, and I'm sure more than a few nights reserved for the ZiMS foundation. Leader and mentor, line-up cornerstone, and defensive rock completely dedicated to the organization and the community, Ryan Zimmerman has an opportunity to define all that is good in sports.
Other true faces of the franchise in today's game? You go straight to Derek Jeter, who, in terms of championships and longevity you hope that Zim mirrors. Newly vindicated Ryan Braun, who was taken in the same draft and has a similar contract history with a mid-market team seems to be another Face. Evan Longoria is another player in similar position to stay with 1 team his whole career and define a previously undefinable franchise. Other players who are, or are on the verge of being, true Faces are Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Justin Verlander, and Troy Tulowitski.
There are several hybrid faces of the franchise that are interesting cases. Big Papi for one in Boston is their Face, even though he came up with another team, breaking an 84 year-old curse is a great way to leapfrog some of the requirements for a true Face of the Franchise. Another interesting case is Ichiro - a player so transcendent and talented easily became the Mariners Face in his first season. Albert Pujos and Jose Reyes become almost instant Faces, one on talent alone, the other based on the direction of a new organization (Hanley Ramirez is NOT the face of the Marlins and never could be - I believe we will see why during Spring Training). Honorable Mention to Michael Young in Texas who has all the criteria yet none of the respect or accolades.
Did I miss someone? Most probably. Tell me who!