The man sits alone in his office, holding a specimen cup and thinking about regret. Is this how it's going to end? Pee in a cup, and 40 years of work goes to waste? Could it really fall apart that quickly? If so, he will not look for excuses. He will not plead ignorance, or mount legal challenges. And he will not point the finger at anyone else. If this is to be a fatal wound, he will acknowledge it was self-inflicted. Which is why Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington picks up his telephone and notifies a Major League Baseball official that he has violated the game's drug policy, and that this random drug test will likely reveal a taste of cocaine from several days earlier. Later, he will have tears in his eyes when he tells his bosses the same and offers to resign. All he asks of general manager Jon Daniels and team president Nolan Ryan is that they do what they can to protect the reputation he spent so much time building. What Washington does not yet comprehend is that he does not need to save his good name. Instead, it will save him.
Seventeen months later, it is the eve of the 2010 World Series and they all have arrived here together.
The Texas Rangers, Ron Washington and a resilient reputation.
He is 58, and taking part in the World Series for the first time. The kid who survived a poor New Orleans neighborhood, who left home at 18 with his $1,000 signing bonus and who spent parts of 20 seasons either playing, coaching or managing in the minor leagues is now on the game's grandest stage.
"This," Washington said Tuesday, "is what it's all about."
He may feel that way today, but the truth is the journey will always mean so much more.
Washington is the guy this game is built upon. The stars make the money, the showboats grab the headlines, but the lifers are the ones who have helped preserve the game's integrity from one decade to the next.
The guys willing to play any position. Willing to keep getting on that minor-league bus travelling from one small town to the next. The guys willing to give as much as they take.
"He's never had a bad day in a baseball uniform," Rangers hitting coach Clint Hurdle said. "He's a baseball lifer. He's all in."
You don't think Washington loves this game? In 1970, he was an 18-year-old playing at the Royals minor-league complex in Sarasota. Twenty years later, he was a 38-year-old playing minor-league ball in Oklahoma City.
Oh, he got some big-league time in between. He showed up as a utility player for the Dodgers, Twins, Orioles, Indians and Astros. But he never made the big bucks. And he never made it on the field for a postseason game. He was traded once in the minors for Steve Patchin, and another time for Wayne Caughey, and both of them gave up almost 30 years ago without ever reaching the majors.
"I spent 10 years in the minor leagues before I got to the big leagues," Washington said. "People would ask me how could I persevere. That's just the way my life went. We have to accept what's handed to us, and make the best of it."
Through all of his travels, Washington watched, listened and learned. And he slowly began to build a reputation. First, for his enthusiasm. Later, for his honesty. Eventually, for his compassion.
He joined Oakland's coaching staff in 1996 and soon became the one man everyone adored. When Eric Chavez won a Gold Glove award, he presented the trophy to Washington. When Hurricane Katrina leveled Washington's New Orleans home, former A's player Jason Giambi wrote him a $25,000 check to begin the rebuilding.
"I don't think I've ever run across a player who didn't like Wash," said Rays DH Dan Johnson, who played for Washington in Oakland. "Trust is a big thing in this game, and you always knew you could trust him. He wouldn't tell you one thing, and then tell someone else something different. He was going to stick up for you, and he was going to believe in you."
This is why the Rangers hired him in 2007, and why they stuck with him after the positive drug test in '09.
And when news of the positive test was about to break this spring, Washington called his players together to inform them as Daniels and Ryan watched. Once again, he was unsure if this was the moment that would begin his downfall. Washington finished. There was a brief pause. And then infielder Michael Young stood up and said he had his full support.
"Wash said his piece. He laid it on the line as far as what happened," Young said Tuesday. "One by one, guys started standing up saying, 'We want you to be the guy to take us where we want to be.' "
To this day, Washington swears his brush with cocaine was a one-time thing. He was out with some old friends during the All-Star break and foolishly gave it a try. Never had it before or since.
Maybe you don't buy it. Maybe you don't believe a man would suddenly decide to dabble in cocaine for the first time in his mid 50s. After all, it is an unlikely story.
Just like the story of a skinny New Orleans teenager surviving decade after decade until the day he filled out the lineup card for Game 1 of the World Series.
John Romano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.