Spring training for Major League Baseball teams is upon us, and a man who led his to two World Series this decade is biding his time.
One day, he is at UNO, helping good friend Ron Maestri with his fledgling program. Another day, he’s at New Orleans’ baseball academy sponsored by Major League Baseball, trying to put wings on a youngster’s dream. On another, he’s working with former Jesuit and UNO standout Johnny Giavotella in an effort to build the consistency needed for him to make his mark at the game’s highest level.
That Ron Washington is at home in New Orleans, where there is no big-league team or training camp is no injustice, however. Washington will tell you he did it to himself. But this feels awfully different from the previous 45 years.
“This is the first time I haven’t been at a spring training since I left high school (in 1970),” said Washington, who signed with the Kansas City Royals after graduating from John McDonogh High School, where he was a catcher. “I’m dealing with each and every day trying to find peace with being out of the game right now and just enjoy my family.”
Washington was in his ninth year last season with the Texas Rangers, with the most wins in franchise history (664), when he resigned on Sept. 5, citing the need to work on his family life. He admitted to having had an affair, but there were media reports of a woman having accused him of sexual assault, which he says is “speculation.”
Asked if all that was behind him, legally and otherwise, he said, he never had anything to put behind him, other than becoming one again with wife, Geraldine, together since the 10th grade at McDonogh and married going on 43 years. That latest indiscretion came five years after he admitted to having used cocaine, but the Rangers stood by him.
For now, however, he said he feels detached in another way and wonders if he did the same thing to baseball that he did to Geraldine. That’s one of the things that bothers him.
“I’ve never taken this league, this game for granted,” Washington said. “But you have to ask yourself if you did that in some capacity. I hope that I didn’t take it for granted, because I always cared about representing. I always cared about continuing to be a professional, and I always cared about people. So, it taught me that’s what life is all about, caring about people.”
He has had a difficult time getting major league teams to care. He’s reached out to a few teams, he said, but hasn’t gotten a response. Washington, who built his reputation as an infield instructor, developing Gold Glove players with the Oakland Athletics such as six-time winner Eric Chavez and shortstop Miguel Tejada, said he would just like to get back in the game.
“My whole presence is just to help, and I have a passion for baseball,” he said. “So, if that’s managing, certainly. If that’s as a third base coach, certainly. If it’s a roving instructor, wherever the game has to offer, I have something to offer the game.”
He had a lot to offer the Rangers as an amiable skipper who kept the team relaxed and playing at its highest level, getting the most out of players such as slugging outfielder Josh Hamilton, who’d before he had a well-chronicled bout with drugs and alcohol.
Four years after being hired, Washington led the Rangers to the franchise’s first playoff series win in 2010. The team advanced to the World Series, only to lose in five games to the San Francisco Giants, who rode a dominating pitching staff.
“They just pitched and did everything that the game asked ’em to do, and they did it to perfection,” he said.
The Rangers came back stronger the next season, reaching the World Series again, but that one left lasting scars. Texas lost in seven games to the St. Louis Cardinals after coming one out from victory — twice — in the sixth game. A misplayed ball by an outfielder Washington inserted into the game for defensive purposes opened the door for the Cardinals to come back.
Washington admits it still gnaws at him.
“It never really leaves you because you were so close and that’s what you work for from the time you leave your home in February till there’s no baseball to be played,” he said. “But we had a good group of guys, and we focused on what we had to do the next year to get back there that we would be able to bring home the prize. It just didn’t happen.”
That’s another reason he’d like another chance in the majors, he said. Mostly, though, it’s the love of the game.
He was switched from catcher to infield while in the minor leagues because at 5-foot-10, 140 pounds, it was thought he wouldn’t survive a collision at home plate. But he had coaches such as Buzzy Keller, his first coach in the minors who taught him how to deal with the fears that’s in the pro game, and Steve Boris, who taught him focus.
Along the way, there were others from whom he gleaned information that made him an excellent infield instructor and overall teacher of the game.
He’s been using that knowledge to help Maestri build a foundation at UNO and with others. Helping others and being around kids he said “is just the perfect situation outside of the perfect situation. A perfect situation is I’d be in training camp right now.”
His mistakes were not because of the game’s pressures, he said. He’s been in it too long for that. He said he remains a person of character, though, who made some bad choices. He said he’s learned from them.
“I just try to stay positive,” he said, “and the next time, you want to dot your ‘I’s’ and cross your ‘T’s’.
“I hoping that the game doesn’t turn its back on me, because I have a lot to offer, and I want to offer it in any capacity.”