Washington received the honor after leading the league in home runs (5) and RBI (18) as of April 11. He now has 19 RBI as of April 17, after he hit a two-out run-scoring triple in Monday night's win against the Wichita Wranglers.
Washington, a native of Milledgeville, Georgia, originally picked up by the Pittsburg Pirate organization in the tenth round of the 1997 draft, was signed by the Cardinals as a free agent in 2006, and the 5'9" infielder was given the starting position at third base for the Springfield Cardinals.
Washington set a team record in his first 10 games with a seven-RBI game, in which he hit a three-run homer and a grand-slam in consecutive innings against Tulsa. Washington had at least two hits in six of his first 10 games and reached base in 8-10 attempts.
Washington has spent his entire career in the minor leagues and played last year in Montgomery, Alabama, of the Double-A Southern League where he set a career high with 77 RBI and 19 home runs. In 2005 he played 96 games at third base; hit 19 home runs, fifth in the Southern League; had a team high 77 RBI; hit in at least 11 straight games twice, including a 20-game hitting steak from 6/1 to 6/22 where he batted .408 with 18 RBI; batted .361 for the month of June, with five home runs and 20 RBI; and was selected to the 2005 Southern League All Star Team.
His team, with a record of 7-4, is tied for first place in the North Division of the the Texas League with the Tulsa Drillers, and no doubt Washington has been a big part of the Springfield Cards success. Although he leads the team in home runs and RBI, and though he had a great 2005 season, I don't think that is the entire reason that the fans love him so much. I think it''s just because they like to say the name "Rico.," when he comes to bat. The echo from the stands can be heard all around the ballpark each time Washington approaches the plate-- "Ri-Co" Ri-Co." I expect it will continue--unless (and may the baseball gods forgive me for even thinking this much less putting it in print) something happens to Scott Rolen at the third bag in St. Louis.
Surely the Big Papa Bird has his eye on someone like Washington with such an impressive early record. It wouldn't be easy to fill the shoes of a 6'4" Rolen but from what I have seen of the the 5'9" third baseman from Springfield--he would give it one whale of a try. Maybe the fans in St. Louis should start practicing saying "Ri-Co, Ri-Co," just in case. It never hurts to have a back-up cheer.