Leader of the Pack

A leader in the minors is defined by not only your play on the field, but by the work ethic you deploy and the eagerness to teach those around you. In baseball, leadership is a valued trait and there is a stigma that younger players come into the minors with. They don't think they have to change the way they play to remain effective. They come from colleges and high schools around the nation and are not ready for the grind, loathe admitting it. Enter a leader, enter Rico Washington.

"(I have) been in the minor leagues long enough, and I would say I was the team leader down there in Double A trying to get the younger guys – I am not saying I am a lot older than they are – there were a lot of guys that came out of college and high school that didn't have any knowledge about actually playing the game," Rico Washington said. "Getting in the business, learning how everything actually works outside of just showing up and playing. There is a lot more than that."

Learning from Washington, who places his family virtues high, is often overlooked by the younger crowd. They come in cocky, thinking, ‘its baseball, I have been doing this my whole life.'

It can't be taught beforehand. Instead it is learning on the fly…not that they will be flying anywhere. The bus is their means of transportation at the lower levels. Rest is at a premium. You won't get much.

Life on the road of a Minor Leaguer.

Part of it is mental makeup, the other simply youth.

"It did happen at a younger age," says Washington. "You are not used to playing a 100-some games a year. You are in your prime, just coming out of high school and you kind of take it for granted. A year or two in the minor leagues under your belt – for instance if you haven't played a full season yet, it really wont bother you but playing a full season when you are young and you are in the south or anywhere where it is hot and it gets late in the season where you have been playing everyday, you are bound to get tired for at least a couple of weeks.

"It is mental, but at a young age you really don't think about it. And your body wins over your mind. As you get older you start realizing it is mental, ‘I can go out and I can play this game everyday with everything I got.'"

It is the little things. Going into a game feeling tired will affect how you play.

It is similar to any job. You are not at your best when you feel tired. The rigors of the season make that inevitable.

"Of course you get tired over the regular season. Your body gets tired but it is mental too. You just prepare yourself to actually go out and play 100% every day."

It sounds easy.

Then come the struggles. No one wants to have a tough road, but the ups and downs of a season will show their ugly faces sooner or later. Responding to the dog days is an important attribute.

"A lot of guys struggled and I know in my mind and in their minds they are a lot better than what they showed."

It is all part of the learning process and it is why so few will go to the Majors without seasoning. The camaraderie in the Minors is an avenue for success. There are players who will help you on the trek and they must be leaned on to glean valuable information. Players will become role models and the game of baseball is much like life, filled with growing experiences.

"It is a learning process. No matter what people say, you can have all of the ability in the world, but if you don't sit there and you don't study baseball, you don't figure out what someone is trying to do to you, and you don't understand the concept of what you need to do, then your numbers are going to be down no matter what. If you are not going to listen to anybody, then you are not going to figure it out yourself."

Listening to those who have gone through it before is something that has happened since the dawn of time. To be successful, listen to those who have done it before or made others successful.

A learning process indeed, and who better to turn to than Rico Washington. He has had his highs, had his lows and is someone who can be leaned on. You get the feeling he would be an excellent coach one day…when his playing career is over.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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