By Mark Bowman – MLB.com
Ron Washington’s decision to quit smoking four months ago has not removed him from the high-risk category for COVID-19. But the willingness to break this longtime addiction is proof the 68-year-old Braves third-base coach is committed to doing whatever he needs to remain healthy and on a baseball field over the next few months.
“It’s mind over matter,” Washington said. “I’ve been a strong-willed and a strong-minded person my whole life. You have to do what you have to do. Life changes. You just have to go with it. Hopefully, the day will come when we get back to normal.”
Whether guiding the Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances or serving as a beloved and significantly valuable coach for the A’s and Braves, Washington has spent the past couple decades proving to be a tireless worker who puffed at cigarettes between early-morning Spring Training drills or whenever he felt the urge to take a few drags away from a television camera.
But to the surprise and delight of many around the baseball world, Washington can proudly say he hasn’t smoked a cigarette since Spring Training was shut down in March. The respiratory realities of COVID-19 were enough for the coach to finally quit a couple years shy of his 70th birthday.
The earliest studies of this coronavirus showed how damaging it could be to lungs that had been weakened by years of smoking. At the same time, Washington knew if baseball was going to be played this year, the players and coaches would be prohibited from smoking, dipping, spitting sunflower seeds or similar activities, which involved the voluntary release of saliva.
“I feel good,” Washington said. “I know I’m one of the high-risk guys. But I trust the protocols MLB has in place, and I trust Ron Washington even more than the protocols of MLB. Sixty games? I can hide out for 60 games. If there’s another 20 or 25 or whatever it is for the playoffs, I’ll hide out for that also and then head home.”
As Washington thinks back on the shutdown of the past few months, he says it was the first time in at least 40 years he spent the spring and early weeks of summer in his native New Orleans. Much of his time was spent catching up on some of the household tasks assigned by his wife Gerry, who has been with the Braves coach for a little more than five decades.
When it came time to travel to Atlanta two weeks ago to begin preparations for the upcoming season, Washington did not have to lobby with family members.
“I’m going to make certain I do everything I have to do to get through this 60-game season and the playoffs, if all that is possible, and to get home safely,” Washington said.
“My wife allowed me to make that decision. As with most wives, with this COVID-19 out here, they would like to have their loved ones at home. She knows this is what I do for a living and she knows how much I love it. She trusts me to do whatever I have to do to stay safe.”
Washington has continued to have fun with the energetic spirit that has made him a popular and well-liked figure within a few organizations. With hugging, high-fives and handshakes prohibited this year, the third-base coach has developed a “foot shake” he plans to use by extending his right foot to a player who has just homered and is rounding third.
“It’s going to be different,” Washington said. “But in the end, it’s baseball. I personally feel the safest place is at the ballpark.”
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.