NEWS

Patriots receiver Kelley Washington once was a minor league teammate of Josh

Glen Farley

FOXBORO - He may have been struggling to stay above the Mendoza Line in Class-A ball at the time, but Kelley Washington was strides ahead of major league baseball hitters.

He got an up-close look at the game face that has made Red Sox ace Josh Beckett a Cy Young Award candidate seven summers ago.

"He was intense," the New England Patriots wide receiver recalled between Tuesday's double session at the team's Gillette Stadium training camp. "He knows what he wants and he's a real tough competitor. That's what's got him to this point in his career."

The year was 2000.

A 10th-round pick of the Florida Marlins in baseball's 1997 June draft, Washington, a shortstop-turned-third baseman, was in his fourth season in that organization's minor league system.

The second overall pick in baseball's 1999 draft, Beckett, who signed in late August of that year, was in his first pro season and on the fast track to the big leagues.

The two were teammates with Kane County in the Midwest League. Beckett was posting a solid 2.12 earned run average at the start of a pro career that would have him pitching in the bigs in 2001 while Washington was struggling to hit .205 in a season that would drive him to college football come 2001.

"I felt I was better fit for being a physical receiver," the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Washington explained. "I felt if I really put my mind to it I could really be a good football player. After four years of playing minor league baseball, I made the decision to go back to college and that was the best decision of my life."

As a 22-year-old freshman, Washington hauled in 70 passes for 1,080 yards and seven touchdowns for the University of Tennessee where his teammates included Patriots wide receiver Donte' Stallworth and safety Rashad Baker.

By the spring of 2003, he had developed into a third-round draft pick of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Beckett?

By the fall of 2003, he was earning World Series most valuable player honors for the Marlins, tossing a complete game, five-hit shutout to defeat New York, 2-0, at Yankee Stadium while pitching the sixth and deciding game on three days' rest. Now in his second season with the Red Sox since a trade with Florida relocated him to Boston, Beckett appears driven to return to baseball's biggest stage.

"A lot of the players I played against are playing in the major leagues now," said Washington. "It's gratifying to me just to see that they've made it."

The two have traveled different routes - Washington makes his living with his hands, Beckett with his right arm - but as teammates on the Kane County Cougars they shared a number of similarities.

"I haven't talked to Josh Beckett probably in about a year," said Washington, "but it seems like every time we see each other we catch up just because we were roommates and spent a lot of time together when we did play baseball together."

As a wide receiver, Washington has plenty of company in Patriots camp.  "I thought we had a lot of talent in Cincinnati as far as the receiving corps," said Washington, "but here you have (tight end Benjamin) Watson and all the (wide) receivers that can make plays. It's very competitive."

On far too many occasions, Washington wasn't competitive with Cincinnati where he caught 72 passes in 44 games in four underachieving years, his final season with the Bengals consisting of nine catches in five games before he was placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury.

On March 13, Washington made the move to New England as an unrestricted free agent.

"I just want to stay healthy, work with Tom (Brady), and work with the quarterbacks and give it a great effort," said Washington. "Go out every day and go to work, that's all I want to do."