Baseball is a game of falling and picking yourself back up. One St. Louis Cardinals player embodied that.
The St. Louis Cardinals have had plenty of feel good moments in their storied history, but one, that has gone largely forgotten, stands out in my mind.
Any way you slice it, that is a long period of time. A long time to dedicate yourself to a single craft, no doubt. But, imagine trying for that long and repeatedly coming up short. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. How could anyone be so persistent? So stubborn? Some or most might say that level of persistence is foolish, but to one St. Louis Cardinals player, that dedication finally paid off.
The Early Years
Rico Washington was drafted as a high school prospect, in the tenth round of the 1997 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates. After six years off failing to establish himself, only reaching as high as the double-A level, Washington was eventually let go by Pittsburgh. He was picked up by the San Diego Padres. Like with the Pirates, Washington never made it out of the minor leagues. However, this time managing to make it to the triple-A level.
That is as high as Washington would make it with San Diego, as the team decided to let him go. He would then find himself in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization. Yet he found himself let go once again.
The year was now 2006. As Rico Washington’s chances of fulfilling his life-long dream of major league baseball began to look more and more like a dream and not reality, Washington received interest from the St. Louis Cardinals as the clock ticked rapidly on his would-be career.
Washington was no longer seen as the plucky young teenager full of untapped potential. He was now in his late twenties. He was now a grizzled, minor-league journeyman. Even though a lot of him had changed on the outside, he was the same on the inside. The same fire. The same passion. And, the same dream. The dream that he would eventually get to call himself a big-leaguer.
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Fast forward to the year 2008. Washington had now been in the St. Louis Cardinals organization for two years.
Despite two fairly productive, but injury-riddled seasons, Washington had stints back and forth between double-A Springfield and triple-A Memphis. The clock was once again ticking on Rico Washington.
How much longer? How much longer until this opportunity would vanish like all the others before it? I ask those questions just as a writer in hind-sight. Rico Washington most likely didn’t think like that.
He just continued to do what he always did and knew: To play the game of baseball. That persistence, coupled with a little bit of luck, would finally pay off.
To Those Who Wait
By the time the start of the 2008 began to roll around, the Cardinals found themselves down a man. Shortstop Brendan Ryan, whom was all but a sure thing to make the opening day roster, suffered a rib-cage injury that would put him out for the start of the season. The team needed a body. Just someone to fill a spot until Ryan came back. That’s when it was decided.
After ten years, and just days shy of his 30th birthday, it was finally Rico Washington’s time. Before an exhibition game against double-A Springfield, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa approached Washington, informing him of the good news. This was the news he had waited to hear for a decade. He then decided to celebrate the most appropriate way possible for a man that had taken over 3900 minor league at-bats; he hit a home run.
Rico Washington only hit .158 in 19 at-bats at the major league level. He never saw the major leagues again after his short stint in 2008. However, his story is one that should never be forgotten. It should never be allowed to become just another blip on the baseball radar that only the most die-hard of fans remember. Everyone, no matter what it is they are passionate about, can admire such drive, such dedication, such persistence. Rico Washington is a living, breathing life lesson: If you keep at it, and if you work hard enough, you can achieve it.