WASHINGTON -- The Nationals didn't arrive back home from a grueling 10-game West Coast trip until around 4 a.m. ET on Thursday, but several players still turned out to Nationals Park to support Ryan Zimmerman's fourth annual "A Night at the Park" fundraiser.
The event, hosted by Zimmerman's ziMS Foundation and presented by MASN Sports, raised more than $300,000 for multiple sclerosis research, not including the proceeds from the night's silent and live auctions. Zimmerman's mother, Cheryl, was diagnosed in 1995 with MS, a chronic disease that affects the central nervous system.
"You can tell, obviously, it touches close to home for him," said reliever Tyler Clippard, one of the Nationals in attendance. "He's very passionate about this foundation. He's grown as a person off the field. Obviously on the field he's always been great, but off the field, you can tell over the years as this event has grown, he's been more influential in this foundation, and you can see what kind of person he's become and the leadership he possesses not only in our clubhouse, but off the field, too."
Overall, the ziMS Foundation has donated more than $1 million to MS support programs and research toward a cure. The main benefactor is the hospital at the University of Virginia, Zimmerman's former school, which he said is top five in MS research.
"They've come a long way in the last five years, and hopefully in the future, we won't have any more of these [events] because they'll find a cure and we won't have to do it anymore," Zimmerman said.
Thursday's event featured a performance from alt-rock group Third Eye Blind. There also were numerous high-profile items available at the auction, including sports and music memorabilia and luxury vacations. Players from the Washington Capitals and Redskins were in attendance, along with Nationals such as Ian Desmond, Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper and Drew Storen.
Zimmerman was extremely appreciative of that, especially considering Thursday was a rare off-day for the Nationals, who just completed a frustrating 4-6 trip to Los Angeles, San Diego and San Francisco.
"I think it just shows you what kind of not only players, but organization, we have, and I think these guys from the time they get here, it's always been the Nationals' way to be a great person," Zimmerman said. "You can be a great baseball player, but we're more than just guys who play on the field. That goes for everyone, not just me."
Clippard said the fundraiser provided the perfect off-day event ahead of Friday, when the team will be back at Nationals Park and back to business as usual. They open a three-game series against the Phillies, looking to cut into the Braves' 4 1/2-game lead in the NL East.
"It feels really good. It felt like we were out on the road for a month," Clippard said. "Being out on the West Coast, it's a whole different vibe out there, and the longer you're away from home, the more you want to come back. Now that you're here, it's almost like leaving Spring Training and starting a new season all over again, it seems like. So we're excited to get back in the swing of things here on the East Coast."