Ron Washington makes Atlanta laugh and learn

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ATLANTA – The phone rang with a FaceTime request and the old trainer smiled. He tapped the screen and his star second baseman’s face appeared.

If this scene happened during the offseason, it might have seemed normal. But Ron Washington, Atlanta’s third baseman, was sitting in his team’s dugout. Second baseman Ozzie Albies was upstairs in the coaches room for a massage. And batting practice was drawing closer before Game 2 of the National League Championship Series.

Yet they were there, face to face via their devices. Albies explained that he would be there to start his daily exercises with Washington in a few minutes. Washington accused him of softening up with the massage. Eventually, Washington, dressed in yoga pants with shorts over them, asked Albies to bring him some uniform pants.

It was a glimpse into one of the most private and entertaining corners of the baseball universe of these playoffs: the loving, vivid, and unique relationship between Washington and his group of infielders – especially Albies.

With colorful language, Albies suggested Washington do its own shopping.

Bring my pants, Washington asked from the dugout.

Moments later, Albies arrived at the shelter, dutifully wearing crisp white baseball pants and a belt.

“I didn’t ask for a belt! Washington scolded.

“Someone else picked up the stuff and gave it to me!” Albies snapped back, the two men unable to contain their laughter.

Within minutes they were off to the grassy area in front of the canoe, each on their knees and facing each other just a few yards away: Washington, 69, with his ubiquitous fungal bat, bouncing hoppers in Albies, 24 years, who was signed as an international free agent from Curacao.

“It’s everyday,” said Atlanta manager Brian Snitker. “Every day. But you know what, you’ll be driving yourself crazy if you don’t have that attitude every day in this sport. These guys are having fun playing. It’s awesome.

The results were evident as Atlanta thrived in September and October, with Washington being acclaimed for waving to the runners successfully while the group of infielders it coaches play a tight defense.

Washington drew a lot of attention with the renowned Oakland Athletics “Moneyball”, and took the Texas Rangers to the World Series twice before off-court issues resulted in his resignation. He acknowledges that his own mistakes – testing positive for cocaine use in 2010 and resigning as Rangers manager after having an extramarital affair four years later – could cost him the opportunity to take over management.

For now, however, Washington is fully committed to coaching with Atlanta. The elaborate daily drills he performs with his six infielders are like watching a tightly choreographed dance troupe prepare for a performance.

Six infielders – first baseman Freddie Freeman, Albies, shortstop Dansby Swanson, third baseman Austin Riley and substitutes Ehire Adrianza and Johan Camargo – each work with the coach ahead of practice batting. Sessions, according to Washington, last 4 minutes 35 seconds, during which he vividly hits 95 one-hoppers to each player. That is 570 one-hoppers per day in about half an hour of work.

The idea, as Washington strikes from various angles from both sides of each player, is to simulate the last jumps of balls on the ground. “Because it’s the only jump that matters,” said Washington, who has long been considered one of the best field coaches in the game.

“When you have a 69-year-old man who works harder than us, it makes us all want to work harder and that’s the key,” Freeman said. “We have a routine every day. It’s just to wake up your hands, to make sure it’s all right.

The players have become so attached to these drills that Snitker loves to tell the story of the last day of the 2017 season. The team was in Miami that day, there was nothing left to play, about to come home. home for the winter, but the infielders were out before the game to do the drills with Washington.

“I don’t think they feel like their day is over if they don’t,” Snitker said. “He has a great relationship with them all, he loves them to death, he will do anything in the world for these guys and they know it.”

” It is special. The guy is a baseball rat.

Washington’s authentic nature and contagious way with people first surfaced during his days as a relief field player for five organizations from 1977 to 1989. In 1984, when the Minnesota Twins called the Precious minor-league hopeful Kirby Puckett, they put him in a room on the road with Washington so Puckett could pick up some good habits.

He retired to the Mets as a coach in 1990. The team hoped to move Tim Bogar, their 1987 eighth-round pick, from shortstop to second. Washington raised his hand and said he could help.

“Bogar was my first student,” he says.

Eric Chavez, a third base defensive star at Oakland, was Washington’s most famous student, because Chavez, in a gesture of gratitude for the hours of tutorship, gifted Washington the third of his six golden gloves. consecutive. It is still displayed at the Washington home.

The players love the results, but they are also drawn to Washington’s approach.

“You have to develop a relationship, and the way you develop it is to let them have a say in everything you do,” Washington said. “No matter what you teach, two people should learn. As an instructor, I should learn what is right and what is wrong with the person I am working with. And he should learn what I teach him.

This skill set led him to serve as a manager with the Texas Rangers from 2007 to 2014. He guided the Rangers to American League pennants in 2010 and 2011, and they nearly won the World Series in ’11 before being knocked out by St. Louis.

He was so well liked that when he tested positive for cocaine use, the Rangers kept him and helped him through this ordeal in 2010. But he resigned in September 2014, revealing that he had to fix his marriage after the affair.

Seven years later, he hopes to be successful again but there have been no offers.

Whatever the reasons, it is well established that opportunities for black managers have been scarce. Arizona State World Sport Institute recently studied hiring and firing patterns from 2010 to 2019 and found that managers of color were more likely to be fired and less likely to be rehired than their white counterparts.

Washington, like Willie Randolph, Davey Lopes, Jerry Royster, Cecil Cooper and Larry Doby before him, has not had a second chance. A handful of black managers got second jobs and Houston’s Dusty Baker, the one notable exception, runs his fifth club.

“Regarding peace, # 1, I made peace with myself. No. 2, made peace with my family. No. 3, what else can I do? Said Washington, who celebrated his 48th birthday with his wife, Geri, this year. “I am at peace. I was put on earth to do this, to make a difference in people’s lives. I did this. I keep doing it.

His team will testify.

“Being on the pitch with Dansby, Ozzie and Freddie is like I have to step up my game so I can keep up with these guys,” Riley said. “By working with Wash every day, he watches over every little thing. Every ball he hits, he makes sure you are making the right moves.

After seeing the other infielders on his team working with the new coach in 2017, Freeman signed up to join them in 2018. He ended up winning a Golden Glove.

“It’s all because of Ron Washington,” Freeman said. “You never stop learning in this game and Wash helped me make it happen.”

Sometimes the learning also extends outside the field. As Washington and Albies argue non-stop, the family relationship is evident.

“He might say a word and I’ll ask him what it means and it’s just something he heard, and I’m forcing him to look up,” Washington said. “The next day he will come and I looked for him myself so I can find out what it is. And it started to help her vocabulary.

Two of those recent words, Albies said, are “beautify” and “proceed.”

“He’s the best,” Albies said. “It doesn’t matter if it’s early, late, cold, hot, he’s still here.”

As Atlanta, up from three games to two in the NLCS heading into Game 6 on Saturday night, hope to overtake Los Angeles for its first World Series appearance since 1999, Washington is there, keeping everyone ready and keeping them equally. free.

“What a new idea,” Snitker said. “For fun while playing baseball.”

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