Nationals prospect Josh Wilkie right at home in Washington

By Tracee Hamilton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, November 19, 2009

Josh Wilkie hopes one day to ride the Metro to work, just like you and me. He'd like to hop on the Orange Line at Foggy Bottom, head to L'Enfant Plaza and then take the Green Line straight to his office. There's where his commute would differ from ours. His office would be the pitching mound at Nationals Park.

He's so close. If anything, Wilkie, 25, has overachieved. The right-handed pitcher was an undrafted free agent out of George Washington University, signed by the Nats in 2006. He worked his way through every stop in their minor league system until reaching Class AAA Syracuse, just one phone call short of the big league roster, and he was one of seven Nationals prospects chosen to participate in the prestigious Arizona Fall League.

Now it's decision time for the Nationals. Because he is one phone call short of the majors, Wilkie would be eligible for next month's Rule 5 supplemental draft if he doesn't make the 40-man roster the Nationals must submit by Friday. To put it mildly, Wilkie hopes to stay put.

"I've made D.C. my home," he said.

Wilkie, who grew up in Alpharetta in what he calls "semi-rural Georgia," made his recruiting visit to Washington shortly after Sept. 11, 2001. Rather than being put off by the fear and tension that was nearly palpable here at that time, he instead fell in love, with GW and with D.C. He was offered a scholarship -- three quarters baseball, one quarter academic -- and arrived in Foggy Bottom intending to major in engineering. He had a 3.0 GPA after his first semester. Then came the baseball season.

"We don't have lights on the field, so all the games are in the day, which really crushed you in classes," he said. "I missed a lot of classes."

His father had one request of Wilkie: graduate in four years. He needed to take 18 hours in the spring to do that, and it became too much. He needed to find a different major.

"My dad said, 'Why don't you do something you really want to do?' " Wilkie recalled.

He had always liked music. He could play the piano, some drums, the guitar, the saxophone. "I grew up playing music," he said. So he took a look at the music department, and the music department took a look at him.

"He started quite late," said Douglas Boyce, the deputy chairman of the music department. "The first class he had with me was the second semester of his sophomore year, which is the point at which you have to declare your major.

"Many students come and take a course or two and toy with the idea of a music major and find it's actually a lot more work than they thought it would be. One thing that I didn't realize was his discipline and focus. He sat down and got to work. I was impressed."

Boyce became a mentor to Wilkie; he still occasionally attends concerts with Wilkie and his fiancee at the Kennedy Center. In turn, Boyce saw Wilkie pitch during his time with high Class A Potomac in 2008. "I don't really follow baseball; I follow Josh," Boyce said.

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