Passion keeps the dream alive for Washington

Published 1:12 pm Thursday, April 16, 2020

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During his days as a Lancer, few could swing a bat as powerfully as Kyri Washington. It made him the Big South’s home run leader in 2015, earned him an all-conference award and an invitation to the prestigious Cape Cod League, and it drew dozens of professional scouts to Farmville where he drove many a fastball beyond the confines of Buddy Bolding Stadium.

Kyri Washington

Now five years after the Boston Red Sox selected him in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft, Washington will be the one unearthing the next generation of professional baseball talent as a member of the Red Sox scouting team.

Following a five-year professional career in the Red Sox minor league system that ended with his retirement in August of 2019, the five-time World Series Champion organization announced in February that they had hired Washington as a professional scout.

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“Kyri was someone whom our player development staff loved,” Harrison Slutsky, the director of professional scouting for the Boston Red Sox and Washington’s new boss, said. “Coaches, coordinators, trainers and our player development office staff all raved about his makeup, especially as he persevered through an injury-plagued few seasons there. We always try to make sure we keep track of high-character people that show high baseball IQ in our system, and Kyri certainly fit that description.”

While it was the eye-popping power Washington displayed at Longwood – and, fittingly, at Fenway Park during the 2014 Cape Cod League Home Run Derby – that drew scouts’ attention initially, it was the Prospect, Va., native’s intangibles that ultimately led Boston to draft him. Those same intangibles are also what led the organization to retain him in his new role where he will be evaluating players to determine which would be the best fits for the Sox.

“In the short time I’ve known him personally, a few qualities stand out to me already that will be key drivers to his success, and it’s nothing we didn’t know about him before, but they stood out to me,” Slutsky said. “Obviously his passion and work ethic for baseball is evident. The experiences he went through in college and pro ball certainly give him a solid scouting foundation to build off of.”

Those experiences span nearly a decade from when he first became a Lancer to when he finally hung up his cleats as a Red Sox. After Boston selected him in the 23rd round following his breakout 2015 season under then first-year Longwood head coach Ryan Mau, Washington made a splash in the Red Sox organization in 2016 when he was named the Single-A Greenville Drive’s Player of the Year. He smashed a whopping 16 homers, nine triples and 20 doubles that year and wound up in Baseball America’s prestigious top-30 prospect list for the Red Sox organization.

However, his follow-up season in 2017 was cut short almost as soon as it began when he was placed on the disabled list in April with an arm injury and, after a brief return to the field later in the month, ended up back on the DL for good in May.

He bounced back in 2018 and returned to form with a torrid May for the High-A Salem Red Sox before another injury put an abrupt halt to a 10-game hitting streak and prematurely ended his second straight season of pro ball.

Washington made one last shot at a comeback in 2019, but the injuries proved too much to overcome. However, even though his time on the field had come to a disappointing end, during his five-plus years with the organization, he had done more than enough to prove his intangibles to the Red Sox.

“After I retired, the Red Sox mentioned that if anything came up, or if there was any way for me to stay in the organization, they would reach out,” he said. “Scouting never crossed my mind as a player. But then, after I retired and realized that that dream [of making the big leagues] came to an end, I was like, ‘Ok, now, how can I stay in baseball while still doing something I love.’”

Also working in Washington’s favor was the business administration and finance degree from Longwood he completed. After he signed with Boston as a junior, he was two semesters shy of completing his degree requirements at Longwood, but he stayed in close contact with the university to establish a plan for completion. He followed that roadmap in his time off the field and earned his bachelor’s degree in May of 2019, doing so with a grade point average well above 3.0. To receive his diploma between baseball seasons put a fitting cap (and gown) on a decorated collegiate career that also saw him twice earn Big South All-Academic Team honors.

But Washington’s foray into scouting did not happen immediately after his retirement from baseball, instead taking six months to germinate. In the interim, he began work as an accountant in Sacramento, California, literally across the country from his hometown of Prospect, Va.

“That was a blessing,” Washington said about earning his degree. “Especially with everything that transpired after that, just having that degree and that security was amazing. It was a big accomplishment. After I left school my junior year, it was kind of an inconvenient situation where I couldn’t be on campus taking classes, so the university helped me out a lot.”

That help came from some of Washington’s most impactful professors and members of the athletics department, who had also witnessed Washington’s character and work ethic during his time in Farmville and were eager to help him achieve one dream while pursuing another.

“Dom Schwartz and Bob Cochran are my two accounting professors that I really enjoyed. Troy Austin, the athletic director at the time, Michelle Meadows [then a senior associate athletic director], they’re the reason I graduated,” Washington said. “A lot of other schools wouldn’t provide the services they did for me since I couldn’t be on campus any longer, but they were dedicated just as much as I was to finishing my degree.”

“I remember Kyri being great with people, being a team player, and I think that is going to be great for the Red Sox organization,” Meadows, who has since been appointed athletics director at Longwood in 2018, said.

“When you see a student want it that bad, and for me, knowing he wanted it so quickly after he left was important, because I do think sometimes when time passes, it becomes a lot harder. Wanting to make that a reality for him really mattered. We’d do it for any student, but it was also special that he was a local kid—someone from this area who came to Longwood, had given everything he had to being a student and an athlete and represented everything that is great about Longwood and Longwood athletics. It was an easy decision.”

But even with his playing days behind him and his new career unfolding in front of him, Washington admits he was always thinking of his return to baseball. His passion for the game just wouldn’t let him leave. It wasn’t until the Red Sox reached out to him with a position that seemed perfectly suited to his education as an accountant and experience as a player that he decided to dive headfirst into the scouting world.

“Scouting is all about evaluating, meeting deadlines, being structured,” he said. “I think accounting definitely helps with that. As an accountant, you have to be structured and disciplined, and I think that aspect will help. You’ve got to be honest about your work, and honesty goes a long way in any aspect in life.”

This spring, instead of playing the outfield during spring training, Washington went from field to field in Fort Myers, Florida, acclimating to his new role and attacking it with the same vigor he did as a player. Unfortunately, the spread of COVID-19 cut spring training short, but he used his short time in his new role to show how his intangibles as a player translated to his work as a scout.

“He’s a confident individual, Kyri is, but he’s also very self-aware,” Slutsky said. “Despite his playing experiences, he realizes that as he starts to look at things through a scouting lens, there’ll be a number of things that will be new to him, and he’s been eager to get feedback and grow.”

“His open-mindedness, that kind of bleeds into what I just said as well, but he’s eager to learn. He’s very inquisitive, he’s curious. And his high character. It’s clear he holds himself to a high standard. He’s just a quality human being that will be a good teammate to all of us with the Red Sox.”

And then there’s the thread he wove throughout his life, both as a player and person. The work ethic that transformed him from a local little league legend into a Big South bomber and an MLB draft pick.

“He works hard at whatever he does, so I know he will continue to learn and he’ll continue to grow and be great at scouting and any other things he pursues in his life,” Meadows said.

As Washington enters the next chapter in his professional career, he continues to build on a legacy he began at Longwood.

“Longwood was a great place for me for three years and continues to be an awesome support system with anything I ever need,” he said. “I know that whenever I reach out to anyone at Longwood, I’m welcomed as family and a brother, and around the town, I go see everyone and nothing has changed. Probably one of the things that’s stuck with me the most is how the community is and how everyone loves you. Yeah, it’s an awesome place.”