Washington relies on four decades of experience to lead
In baseball since 1971, Rangers' veteran skipper combats pressure with preparation
Ron Washington may well be the most unorthodox manager in baseball, based on the philosophies and principles he uses to manage the Texas Rangers.
Few will deny him that.
But what people don't realize -- and what they need to, in the context of Washington -- is that different doesn't have to be equated with bad or wrong.
Washington knows what he's doing.
Add up the numbers -- 10 years in the Minors, another 10 in the big leagues, five years coaching in the Mets' farm system, 11 years on the Athletics' coaching staff and, finally, eight years and counting with the Rangers -- and Washington has more than 40 years of big league service to draw upon.
You could say he's living his dream.
"Did I know it would come to reality? No. It was a dream I had," Washington recalled. "I love the game of baseball, have a deep passion for it, and all I've ever done my whole life is play baseball. I played from sunup to sundown seven days a week."
That's why he's grounded in what he knows to be true.
"I believe in playing the game according to what the game asks you to do," Washington explained. "I'm a very fundamentally sound guy. I believe in playing toward the situations, and then the game becomes what you might call 'easy' situations, because when you can play toward the situation, the game presents you.
"[That method] really doesn't put a whole lot of pressure on you. I love for my guys to have fun, I love for them to be who they are. And when they're like that, it's easy for them to play the game of baseball."
For Washington, pressure is relative.
"You always want to get the season off on the right note, but pressure is when you're not prepared," he said. "And I'm prepared. And I try to get my guys prepared. So I don't feel the pressure. There's pressure every single day.
"The most pressure I have every day is just making sure that I wake up in the morning, and once I wake up in the morning, baseball is fun. I don't feel the pressure of baseball because I've been doing it my whole life and these guys have been doing it most of their lives. So if you're well prepared, then you don't feel the pressure. I mean, it's there, but you learn how to control it so that it's not being exposed. It's always there, but you don't let it become a part of what you're trying to accomplish."
So how does Washington teach his players to deal with pressure in a controlled environment?
"We get work done. If we come out and we go about our business in a professional manner and get the work done, then we don't have to be out there all day," Washington said. "It's when they're going through the motions that really gets under my skin. I've been very fortunate that over the past five or six years I've had a group that comes out, gets the work done, gets off the field and I've never had to worry about balancing [work and play]."
Washington, 61, has a wealth of wisdom to impart on his players as a former Major League infielder himself. So with 40 years of baseball experience under your belt, where do you even begin to start teaching your team?
It's an easy answer for the Rangers' skipper.
"Understanding the game," he said. "More than anything else, I want them to understand what part they play. I don't want a guy -- and his job is to bunt, hit-and-run and move the runners -- to think that he's a power hitter. An infield guy, I just want him to make the routine plays. And if you can play defense, you can understand how to run the bases, you can execute when opportunity presents itself, you don't have to be a super hitter, for me. That just shows me that you know how to play the game, and I like to have guys around who know how to play the game."
After that, Washington's goal is to instill the keys to longevity in his players.
"Attitude. Health. You've got to stay healthy, you have to have a tremendous attitude every single day. You've got to be committed to what you're doing," he explained. "There will be obstacles. Everything in life, there's obstacles. Those that can deal with the obstacles and handle the obstacles are the ones that will continue to move forward."
Meggie Zahneis, winner of the 2011 Breaking Barriers essay contest, earned the job of youth correspondent for MLB.com in the fall of '11. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.