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Patriots WR reflects on his days of playing baseball

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -Kelley Washington was once teammates and roommates with Boston Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett. Now both are professional athletes in New England - in different sports.

Washington spent four years playing minor league baseball in the Florida Marlins system in the Gulf Coast and Midwest leagues. These days, the 27-year-old is vying for one of the last wide receiver spots on a crowded Patriots depth chart that includes Randy Moss.

From his baseball career, Washington knows what it's like to be on the road for weeks at a time, to train for long hours in the heat, to eat chicken soup straight from the can.

He said during training camp this week that the experience made him a better football player - versatile and humble.

"It's a lot of games, a lot of traveling. It's just a grind," said Washington, who played with Beckett on the Kane County (Ill.) Cougars. "They break you down to build you up."

The 6-foot-3, 215-pound free agent is among a handful of wide receivers the Patriots signed this offseason, joining Moss, Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth, a former teammate at the University of Tennessee. The team still has Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney, its top two receivers last year, and Troy Brown.

In four seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, Washington caught 72 passes for nine touchdowns.

The Stephens City, Va., native played football at Sherando High School and earned all-state honors while leading the team to the Class 2A state championship game. When he was not recruited by a major college football program, he signed a contract with the Marlins in 1997 as a 10th-round draft pick.

Beckett said Washington stood out in more than two sports.

"Even as a baseball player, he was a good basketball player. He always had that urge to play basketball, and I thought that's what he'd do," Beckett said last week in the Red Sox clubhouse. "He has all of the tools and he's an unbelievable athlete. I guess when you're that good, you can do whatever you want."

Washington was likewise impressed with Beckett when they played together from 1998-99 for the Marlins Single-A affiliate.

"I knew from actually the first day I met him that he had some type of presence about him," Washington said. "Once he got on the mound it was just like, wow, give him a couple of years and he's going to make it.

"And he did."

Washington's other roommate and teammate in the minors, Javon Walker, is a wide receiver for the Denver Broncos.

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

While playing baseball, he yearned for a more physical sport. He felt the pull of football and enrolled at Tennessee to play one full season with the Volunteers. He was drafted 65th overall by Cincinnati in 2003 during his sophomore year.

"I thought if I really put my mind to it, I could be a football player," he said.

Washington called pursuing college football "the best decision of my life."

Patriots coach Bill Belichick said discipline in other sports could translate well on the football field.

"I don't think one ensures the other, but I think there's certainly some competitive elements there when you perform at a high level in one sport," Belichick said. "At least you know what the competitive nature is. Even though you changed sports, your competitive passion and poise and ability to handle pressure ... is valuable."

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