Ryan Zimmerman leans over the left shoulder of his college best friend and taps an iPhone screen, sending a tweet that announces the end of his decorated baseball career.
The video, shot in February and made public in May through Zimmerman’s Instagram account, featured three parties. There was Zimmerman himself, the former University of Virginia star third baseman who went on to play 17 seasons for the Washington Nationals. There was Ryan’s wife, Heather, who captured the moment with her camera.
And there was Tom Hagan, who is positioned fittingly to Zimmerman’s side.
Another chapter in Zimmerman’s life will be written Saturday when his No. 11 jersey is retired by the Nationals as part of Ryan Zimmerman Weekend at Nationals Park. The franchise that drafted him out of UVA is cementing his legacy in its stadium.
UVA put on a similar ceremony for Zimmerman in April at Disharoon Park.
In both cases, it’s clear how much of an impact Zimmerman has made on the game of baseball. The All-American with the Cavaliers became an All-Star, Gold Glove Award winner and core piece to a World Series championship team with the Nats.
Only Hagan can say he’s had a front row seat to it all.
“I’ve been really, really fortunate,” Hagan said.
Hagan is Zimmerman’s agent. He helps his celebrity client with contracts, business opportunities and fundraising efforts. Hagan is also a former UVA football and baseball player who graduated from the University in 2006 with an engineering degree.
Zimmerman first saw Hagan as a “fun-loving, nice guy from Roanoke who played guitar and loved Dave Matthews.” It was the kind of laid-back personality that matched his own. They naturally sparked a friendship as first-year students living in the “old dorms” on McCormick Road.
“We were really close,” Hagan said.
Hagan was a multi-sport athlete at Cave Spring High School in Roanoke, teaming with future Duke University and NBA sharpshooter J.J. Redick to win a basketball state championship his senior year. He was a punter on the UVA football team for two seasons before committing full-time to Coach Brian O’Connor’s baseball program, where he earned in 2006 All-Atlantic Coast Conference accolades for both his play and academics.
“You start hanging out with him a little bit and you begin to realize this guy is super athletic,” Zimmerman said. “Tom was a really, really good athlete.”
Zimmerman, though, was the prized prospect of that era of UVA baseball. A gifted defender with an easy swing, the Virginia Beach native ascended to become one of the top college players in the country by the end of his junior season. He turned professional shortly after the Nationals selected him fourth overall in the 2005 Major League Baseball draft.
Back in Charlottesville that fall, Hagan rounded up some of his Cavalier teammates and headed to the UVA baseball clubhouse to watch Zimmerman make his big-league debut. The space put Zimmerman’s rapid rise to the majors in perspective.
“We literally had just shared this locker room with Ryan a few months prior,” Hagan said. “Just seeing him debut and have some success immediately there at the end of ’05 with the Nationals, it didn’t make a lot of sense to us at the time.
“We were like, ‘How is this happening?’ In hindsight, we know why it happened.”
After Zimmerman’s departure, Hagan batted .357 as a senior – second-best on the team – with 41 runs batted in as UVA went 47-15 and made the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive year. He was one of two Wahoos drafted that summer, going in the 39th round to the Pittsburgh Pirates, an organization he played in for three years before a series of injuries led to an early retirement.
Without a firm plan in place for his next move, Hagan found himself back on Grounds in fall 2008 and catching up with friends at a UVA football tailgate. The company included an old dorms buddy who was coming off his third full season in the MLB.
Hagan, who was contemplating opportunities in the engineering and consulting fields, still had an itch to stay involved in sports. He knew Zimmerman’s then-agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, had just joined CAA Sports, a new branch of the Hollywood-based Creative Artists Agency, and asked if Zimmerman could pass on his résumé.
Ever the instinctive player, Zimmerman has a knack for making the right move off the field, too. He was sold on Hagan’s future in the agent industry.
“Tom was an engineering major at UVA. He’s a smart guy,” Zimmerman said. “And anytime you combine that type of education with athletic ability, it’s almost a perfect storm for that type of business.
“I went to Brodie and said, ‘Hey man, this guy went to UVA, he’s an awesome guy. I think he fits in perfect with CAA. Can you see what you can do?’”
It wasn’t long before Hagan was in CAA’s New York office, working for, as he put it, “the top sports agent executive in the world.”
Sparked by Zimmerman’s recommendation, Hagan quickly interviewed and landed the job as Mike Levine’s assistant. Levine is the co-head of CAA Sports and routinely among Sports Business Journal’s list of the “50 Most Influential People in Sports Business.” Under his leadership, CAA Sports is rated by Forbes as the No. 1 sports agency. It manages more than $10.4 billion in contracts.
The brand was only beginning to evolve as this kind of force when Hagan came on board.
“We hit it off instantly and became fast friends,” Levine said. “It was clear to me very quickly that he was going to be successful in this business. The ease with which he interacted with our athlete clients was something that you just can’t teach.
“It was a function that these were his teammates and friends and he was just very comfortable and natural in that capacity.”
Hagan went from Levine’s aide to a more hands-on role by 2010 when he joined Zimmerman’s Van Wagenen-led agent team.
“That was really instrumental for me in my career because I was able to learn the business with a friend,” said Hagan, who helped with Zimmerman’s six-year, $100 million contract extension with the Nats in 2012. “We shared a certain level of trust with each other. It was really special for me to be able to join that group.”
Hagan’s client list has grown substantially over the years, working closely with more than a dozen MLB players and top draft picks, including the likes of Bo Bichette, Michael Lorenzen, Justin Dunn, Todd Frazier, Garrett Crochet, George Kirby and Trea Turner. He also represents a number of fellow UVA alumni in professional baseball, including Andrew Abbott, Connor Jones, Nathan Kirby and Joe and Jake McCarthy. Redick, Hagan’s old high school teammate who now is an ESPN analyst, works closely with CAA’s basketball division.
When Van Wagenen left CAA to become the New York Mets’ general manager in 2018, Hagan naturally transitioned to Zimmerman’s point agent.
“I think it’s fun because we can throw ideas at each other and not be afraid to either say, ‘No, that sounds like a dumb idea,’ or, ‘Hell yeah, that sounds awesome,’” Zimmerman said. “We’re willing to offer things or throw things out there that you might be reluctant to if you didn’t know the person as well as we know each other. He’s definitely helped my career, that’s for sure.”
As part of one of his early contracts, Zimmerman’s agent team worked in a clause that allowed him to use Nationals Park for free one night a year for a philanthropic purpose. This morphed into “A Night at the Park,” an event hosted by Zimmerman’s foundation to raise money to fight multiple sclerosis, the disease that Zimmerman’s mother, Cheryl, has battled since being diagnosed in 1995.
With Hagan as lead producer, “A Night at the Park” – run as a high-profile charity music event – raised more than $2.5 million during its 10 years.
“He basically built a philanthropic model from scratch,” Zimmerman said. “Other people do it, but we had a unique venue being able to use the stadium, and we had so many options. And they did a really good job of making it successful every year.
“The way Tom handled that and how successful he made that event for our foundation, that’s what I think he should be most proud of as far as what we’ve done business-wise.”
Zimmerman signed his final contract in January 2021 – a one-year, $1 million deal – that ultimately guaranteed he’d be a National his entire career.
Beyond the big hits and clutch defensive plays, Nationals fans probably most admire Zimmerman for his loyalty. He made a commitment to the Washington, D.C., community at a young age and remained true to his word.
Hagan saw it all coming two decades earlier.
“I knew it back in our first year of college,” he said. “Not to say drastic or large, but Zim, his sense of loyalty, the trust he instills in his teammates, I knew it would take something really weird or off the wall for him to not end up a National for life.
“Ryan is the same guy now as he was when we were 17.”
Hagan, who now lives in Nashville with his wife Kristin, a former UVA volleyball player, and their two daughters, was in Houston on Oct. 30, 2019, when Zimmerman and the Nationals beat the Astros to capture their first World Series title in franchise history. He was in Charlottesville on April 30 of this year when UVA retired Zimmerman’s No. 11.
He’ll be in Washington this weekend when the Nationals do the same.
Big moments for Zimmerman are big moments for Hagan. It’s been this way for 20 years.
Levine sent a text of congratulations to Hagan shortly after he saw Zimmerman’s retirement announcement post to Twitter on Feb. 15.
“About 30 seconds later,” Levine said, “he’s FaceTiming me from Ryan’s kitchen. The two of them are on the other side of the phone wanting to share the moment where they were toasting with one another.”
It was friendship personified.
“It was all the best feelings and all the best aspects of this business,” Levine continued. “It’s a really hard business. It’s hard for the players, it’s hard for the agents. And when you have relationships that are so real, so deep-seated like Tom and Ryan do, and there’s so much mutual respect going in both directions, it’s the best of all possible worlds.