OAKLAND, Calif. — For the few hours he's at the ballpark each day, Ron Washington forgets about the devastation and chaos in his native New Orleans.
After he's home, it consumes Oakland's third-base coach.
Washington's wife, Gerry, and 25 other family members got out and are safe in an Alabama shelter. They're in the process of moving into three temporary houses together, where they will try to establish some semblance of normalcy a week after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc across the Gulf Coast region. Washington will leave the Athletics late Monday and spend three days in Alabama with his family, working to get them settled while also trying to learn more about the state of their homes in what's left of the decimated Big Easy.
"I'm one of those guys who believes you don't try to worry about things you can't control," said Washington, who will rejoin the A's in Arlington, Texas, on Friday for a weekend series against the Rangers. "But the more I watch it on TV, my heart begins to go out to the very poor people who are in New Orleans and don't have anything."
He's the only one who will be bringing in a steady paycheck to support the entire family for the near future, and he is so appreciative that the A's organization and its players have reached out to him with financial assistance. "It hasn't been easy for him the last few days when reality set in," said first-base coach Brad Fischer. "Anyone who puts the uniform on every day will tell you when you get to the ballpark it's like a safe haven from the outside world, a distraction for a few hours."
Washington is already vowing to return to New Orleans after the season to see everything for himself — and help clean up the city, too. He will move his family out of Alabama and into apartments as close to New Orleans as they can get, probably in Baton Rouge.
"When I get to Alabama, I can tell them what I saw," said Washington, who has heard from a friend in FEMA that a satellite picture showed that his home in the city's Kennilworth neighborhood is under water. "That's all I know. But I'd like to get there and see for myself. If it's under water, I can live with that. But if it wasn't under water and looters got up in there, I'd hate to be stolen from." He also owns the home where his mother-in-law lives. Washington's family left with only clothes for three days, expecting to return — and not packing belongings such as special photos or important paperwork.
As one of 10 children in a family that didn't have a car until he was in high school, Washington remembers the terrifying days as a boy of "hunkering down" in one room to ride out powerful storms because they had nowhere else to go.
But nothing like Katrina.
Washington is saddened by everything related to one of the country's worst natural disasters. He's following the coverage constantly.
"It bothers you, but that's my home," he said.
Still, Washington was on the field early Sunday before the A's played the New York Yankees, working with kids as he always does — this time, drilling 12-year-old Avi Rosenblum.
It's a necessary respite.
"This is my job. The only time I have a peace of mind is when I'm at the ballpark," he said. "When I leave, I struggle with it again."
The A's weren't surprised to see Washington going about his business. He is considered the heart and soul of this squad, responsible for developing Miguel Tejada into a superstar and also reigning AL rookie of the year Bobby Crosby and second baseman Mark Ellis.
"Wash is a guy who puts everybody before himself," said A's outfielder Nick Swisher, who has known Washington since he was 10. "For someone who's gone through what his family has gone through and to be as upbeat as he is, that sums up Wash. That's why he's Wash and that's why everyone loves him."