You only need to know that Shohei Ohtani’s angels are currently below .500 to remind you, once again, that even the biggest stars often don’t reflect their team’s overall fortunes. But eight All stars? It must be the result of organizational excellence or the cause of it, or both.
Assuming enough Mariners dispersed during the break, there were more Atlanta Braves in Seattle last week than any other team. The team’s eight All-Stars were the most in MLB, the most in franchise history, the most of any team since the 2012 Texas Rangers (who also fielded a sizeable contingent this season) .
More than halfway through the 2023 season, the entire Braves are at least as great as the sum of all those individual successes. Atlanta opens the second half with the best record in baseball (60-29), the biggest division lead (8.5 games in Eastern Newfoundland) and a near-guaranteed spot in a sixth straight October , with playoff odds at 100%, according to Fangraphes. Credit goes to the front office for building an enduring juggernaut, to manager Brian Snitker for overseeing Atlanta’s last dynasty and, of course, to the players – from Ronald Acuña Jr.’s unprecedented speed pace to a pitcher who has lost rookie of the year to teammate last season and now leads baseball in strikeouts.
But credit also goes to a 71-year-old third base coach and the patron saint of pregame practice: Ron Washington.
Included in the six positional players the Braves sent to Seattle was their entire infield. And beyond that, the National League team in Seattle was dotted with high-level Washington disciples from across the league. Freddie Freeman spent more than a decade with the Braves before emotional free agency landed him in Los Angeles. Dansby Swanson was the starting shortstop for six years before Atlanta let him walk and he signed with the Chicago Cubs. Both were in the All-Star Game this year with their new teams (Freeman was on, Swanson was on the disabled list), but their formative years were spent in Atlanta.
This is where, during the Braves’ recent dominance of NL East, Wash’s advice became famous – both for its depth and its roughness.
“Some you can’t really tell,” Freeman said of the pearls of wisdom his former coach imparts, most often during on-court drills.
Always media savvy, Freeman avoided the dangers of repeating everything Washington has told him over the years by turning to praising the example he fixes with his actions. Baseball is all about routine, and Washington epitomizes that — with the fielding drills he famously performs before every game as the most visible manifestation.
“If the 68-year-old performs better than the 24-year-old, we have problems,” Freeman said. “I think he’s just setting an example for everyone: if that’s what you want to do to be successful, that’s how we’re going to do it. He knows what he’s doing. He knows what he is talking about. Everyone loves and respects him. But I can’t really give advice because there’s usually an F-word for every two words.
That was the concern of Matt Olson, who replaced Freeman at first base at Truist Park for the past two seasons.
“I don’t know if you can tell,” he said quietly. Yahoo Sports assured him that Austin Riley, the Braves’ third baseman, didn’t hesitate to repeat Washington’s signature, shall we say, speaking style.
” What did he say ? asked Olson. Said he should answer unknowingly, he nodded.
“I think my favorite wash-ism is, ‘If you’re worried about what you did yesterday, you didn’t do anything today,'” he said.
For the record, Riley relayed that same sentiment, saying, “If you talkin’ yesterday, you ain’t bullshit today.”
Washington balances this love-tough approach by making sure his players understand “you have to have your mental prep first, before your physical prep,” as second baseman Ozzie Albies put it. “So he always talks about your state of mind which has to be there before your physique. So to me, Wash is everything to our entire team — not just the infielders he works with, but anyone.
“Wash is such a good person to have around,” Olson said.
That’s true even if you’re not on his team, and Washington’s respect for baseball extends far beyond Atlanta. Nick Castellanos, now an outfielder with the Phillies, never played for the Braves. He did, however, spend the first part of his career with the Detroit Tigers, whose spring training facility was relatively close to where the Braves trained in Orlando, Florida.
Castellanos relishes the moment Washington told him he was proud of him and how he had grown as a player. And he still remembers advice Wash once gave him.
“At spring training 2019, when we were playing [the Braves], he said, ‘Hey, as soon as you’re dressed, go to the baseball field. There’s no reason to hang around the clubhouse,” Castellanos said. “And I mean, if you watch him, you know, he’s still the first guy there, and he’s got his fungo and his drills and everything ready. I think it’s a pattern of consistency. His words always match his actions.
His words sometimes have a little more…emphasis.