No one in Atlanta ever wanted to be working for manager Ron Washington. “He made life miserable when he was a player,” says Tom Niese, a sophomore at Atlanta’s Northwestern High School who also works on Washington’s coaching staff. “He had to always be the man, to prove that you could make it, no matter what the circumstances were.”
That stereotype made Washington a no-go for the coaching staff of the Monmouth University baseball team, which he took over as interim head coach on an interim basis in March 2012 after his predecessor abruptly resigned under a cloud of steroid allegations. “He was on the outside, working at the ballpark, and I kind of felt bad for him,” recalls Niese. “So I offered to help him out.”
That’s how Washington and the Monmouth club became friends. “It took a while for me to get used to this situation, but once I did, I loved it,” Washington says. “When you have somebody who’s willing to be honest with you, I think that’s the key.”
Washington recently returned to NCAA Division III Division, then went 18-24-1 in just his second season as a head coach. He guided Monmouth to its first winning season and a spot in the Great South Conference Championship tournament, where the Hawks lost a dramatic marathon game to eventual league champion and eventual host Kenyon College 2-1 in a double-overtime marathon in final game of the tournament.
Monmouth lost its opener to University of South Carolina Upstate 12-2, its second-straight tough defeat in the first round of the conference tournament. “The next morning, I was working out with the team and two of the players asked me a question,” Washington recalls. “They asked, ‘What should we do now?’ and I responded, ‘You guys have to work harder.’ They looked at me and said, ‘Are you serious?'”
Washington has quickly become the popular choice for Braves’ executives, ranging from club president John Schuerholz to majority owner Ted Turner, when they search for a new manager. “You talk to people,” Washington says, “and the feedback I get from them is that Ron is a very well-respected, very popular manager. He’s a positive influence, a hard worker and he does everything by the book. And he loves baseball.”
Sixteen years ago, Washington signed as a free agent out of the Canadian League with the Ontario Red Sox. He then signed with the Atlanta Braves organization, appeared in all but six games of two seasons, and was a starter for the 1989 National League Championship team.
Washington’s managing career took a circuitous path after he got out of baseball. He held a role in the South Carolina State system for seven years, first as a pitching coach and then as a director of player development. In 2009, Washington was hired by Stanford University and he was responsible for scouting the program’s D1 baseball players from a pool of over 600 prospects.
Washington says Stanford provides the ideal platform for a fledgling managerial career. “You get a lot of situations, major game situations, and big games; you have to communicate with everyone, and you have to be all over everything,” Washington says. “It’s what I worked for in the major leagues.”
Monmouth had six players drafted after a 13-17 campaign in 2012, a fifth straight losing season. The team has recovered in stride under Washington, which helps explain his popularity with the Braves.