Sunday, September 14, 2003

Simple twists of fate


Young stars passed each other on way to respective careers

By Kevin Kelly
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The most difficult decision in either man's young life began a journey that led them to the same destination.

Adam Dunn and Kelley Washington were opponents once, spying each other from opposite sides of baseball diamonds in the Class-A Midwest League.

They're now among the most promising young athletes for Cincinnati's professional baseball and football teams.

"I always knew he was going to make it," Washington said. "But I don't know if he knew I was."

Dunn is the stocky Reds outfielder, a former Texas quarterback with strength enough to smack baseballs out of Great American Ball Park.

Washington was a project the Florida Marlins chose in the 10th round of the 1997 baseball draft, who later rebuffed the game on his 21st birthday and is now a rookie wide receiver with the Bengals.

"When we were in the minors, (Reds outfielder) Austin (Kearns) was always pointing out if there was a guy who played football, or a big-time prospect," Dunn said. "Kelley was big time. He's a stud receiver."

Washington and Dunn are former standout high school quarterbacks.

A three-sport athlete at New Caney High in Texas, Dunn completed 52 percent of his 544 passes for 4,792 yards and 44 touchdowns.

He signed with the University of Texas in 1998 and was taken by the Reds in the second round of that year's baseball draft.

Texas head coach Mack Brown lauded Dunn as a physically impressive quarterback and a great athlete with the ability to run.

But after spring football practice in 1999, Dunn knew a decision about his future had to be made.

The Longhorns talked about splitting time at quarterback or moving him to another position to better utilize his 6-foot-6, 240-pound body.

The situation didn't appeal to Dunn, who had played well in 34 baseball games for rookie-league Billings in 1998. Inside the quarterback's body was a desire to play professional baseball.

Dunn progressed quickly from Class A to Double-A and Triple-A. The Reds promoted him to the majors on July 20, 2001, and he hit 19 homers with 43 RBI in his first 66 games.

Cincinnati's representative at the 2002 All-Star Game, Dunn has batted .235 with 53 home runs and 128 RBI the past two years. He is currently on the disabled list with a wrist injury.

"The thing about baseball is that if you're out for a while and try to pick it up again, it's hard," Dunn said. "Baseball is an everyday grind. It's totally different from football."

That's what Washington learned in his four seasons as a light-hitting infielder in the Marlins farm system.

A quarterback and safety at Sherando High in Stephens City, Va., he led his team to the Class AA championship game as a senior.

But being from a broken home where his mother and grandmother were the primary role models, and because few colleges recruited him as a football player, Washington accepted the Marlins' six-figure offer.

"I felt baseball would really prepare me for life," Washington said. "It was just a good opportunity for me to have some money in my pocket and also to grow up as far as the maturity side of it."

In 295 games from rookie ball to Class A, Washington got a heaping dose of humility. He batted .213 with nine home runs and 98 RBI as a shortstop and third baseman. On his 21st birthday, Aug. 21, 2000, Washington decided to move on.

"I came to realize it was going to take four or five more years to make the big leagues," he said.

So he left, and few knew.

The decision rankled Marlins executives, who didn't know Washington was enrolling at the University of Tennessee.

"It was like he was a missing person for about a month," said Montreal Expos scout Rick Williams, who was the Marlins director of player development in 2000.

"But it's one of those things where, in retrospect, it certainly looks like he made the right decision."

With his education paid for at Tennessee, Washington played in 17 games and compiled 1,523 yards and eight touchdowns during the 2001 and 2002 seasons for the Vols.

"I had a man's mentality when I went back to college," Washington said. "It was all about business, all about preparing myself to win and preparing myself to make it to the next level."

A concussion on Oct. 12 of last season led to surgery in November to fuse two vertebras in his neck.

The Bengals saw past the injury, looking instead at his 6-foot-3, 218-pound frame and limitless potential, and took Washington with the 65th pick overall. As the Bengals' third wide receiver, he caught two passes for 18 yards against the Broncos in the season opener Sept. 7.

"I knew when I was riding on that bus in the minors and thought about playing football, this is where I wanted to be," Washington said.

Dunn and Washington are 23 and 24 years old now. There may be times they miss their former sports, but neither regrets deciding a new career path.

"We had dreams," Washington said, "and dreams come true."

ADAM DUNN

TEAM: Cincinnati Reds

POSITION: Outfielder

AGE: 23

HT/WT: 6-6, 240

BORN/RESIDES: Houston/Porter, Texas

HOW ACQUIRED: Second round of 1998 baseball draft

OTHER SPORTS: Signed to play quarterback at the University of Texas in 1998. A three-sport athlete - football, basketball, baseball - at New Caney High School in Texas.

KELLEY WASHINGTON

TEAM: Cincinnati Bengals

POSITION: Wide receiver

AGE: 24

HT/WT: 6-3, 218

BORN/RESIDES: Stephens City, Va.

HOW ACQUIRED: Third round of the 2003 NFL draft

OTHER SPORTS: Signed to play football at Division I-AA Hofstra, but chose minor league baseball when the Florida Marlins took him in the 10th round of the 1997 draft. Batted .213 in 295 career minor league games from 1997-'00.

---

E-mail kkelly@enquirer.com




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ENQUIRER PAGE TWO
Simple twists of fate
Xavier golf evolves into top program
Page Two power rankings

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