Rico Washington knows that he has to work hard. He knows his role is as a utility guy and he is more than happy to perform. The goal for any player is to make it to the big leagues and then when the chance comes, prove you belong. The San Diego Padres snared Washington from the Pittsburgh Pirates before the 2003 season and Washington could not have been happier.<br><br>"The Padres have given me an opportunity," says Washington. "I feel like I was lost in shuffle (in Pittsburgh)."

Washington entered 2003 stuck in a rut after being a highly touted prospect after the 1999 season. The Pirates thought they were looking at a player who could play three different positions for their big league club. Washington had just hit .355 at Hickory in 76 games and was rated among the top ten in the organization. He played second base, catcher and third, proficient in all three.

In 2000, he got labeled as a utility player at 5-9.

Washington, a native of Gray, Georgia, first cousin of former major leaguer Willie Greene and third cousin of Cubs outfielder Rondell White, didn't take to the label of "utility player" very well. After seasons of hitting .300, he started to press to do even better and stopped playing within his game and suffered through injuries. That stagnation led to Washington and the Pirates seeking change.

The Padres came in and gave him that chance after picking him up it the minor league portion of the 2002 rule V draft. He was then sent to Mobile, a Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.

"In my mind, I just feel like by them sending me to Arizona they basically gave me a chance, a new life," Rico Washington said. "It means something coming to the Fall League. No matter if you are on the taxi squad or not.

"Just by them sending me out there, I feel like they gave me a new life and a jumpstart on next year. Even though I didn't hit .300 this year – it's a goal (of mine). In my eyes it is a goal."

A far cry from where Washington thought he would be. He now understands his role. For so long, Washington fought against that and the mental part of his game translating into problems at the plate. Then he came to the Padres and was promoted to Triple-A at the end of the year.

After plugging away in Altoona, the Double-A affiliate of the Pirates for three years, Washington finally got the call. One step away from the ultimate goal.

"It was a great feeling," says Washington. "Knowing I was lost in the shuffle the last three years in Double A with the Pirates!"

"Not getting the chance to go to Triple A or maybe getting a big league callup – it was outstanding that I got there this year."

What may have been more surprising is that Washington hit just .244 in Mobile. He did, however, place second on the team to Jon Knott in RBI's with 60 and was third in runs scored behind Knott and Todd Donovan with 60.

Washington didn't hit his goal of .300, but the promotion was welcomed.

"Even though I didn't hit .300," Washington repeated. "I played some good ball this year.

"I just know I (was in Arizona) as a utility guy," Washington said. "That is basically what has been my role this whole year. Shifting to different positions year in and year out. I am just trying to keep my game up and stay sharp everywhere. If the manager calls on me to play a different position that day, I am going to give 100%.

Making it to the Majors depends on a player knowing his role. Washington is a phone call away.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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