At this year’s Pro Bowl, Seahawks return man Leon Washington sought Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater for an exchange of helmets. Washington signed his. Slater sent a blank one, which initially left Washington flummoxed (“Man, you’re supposed to sign the thing,” he thought), but everything made sense a few weeks later when he inked a free agent contract with the Patriots.

“I was like, ‘Were you sending me a subliminal message?’” Washington said with a laugh yesterday at Fenway Park. “It’s funny how things worked out.”

Washington watched batting practice as a guest of Red Sox equipment manager Edward “Pookie” Jackson. The two grew up in the same apartment complex in Jacksonville, Fla., and have known each other since childhood.

“Small world,” Washington said. “I remember when they won the first World Series in 2004, my mom was like, ‘Pookie won a World Series up there with the Red Sox.’ How awesome is that, especially for us being from Jacksonville? That’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

Washington’s accomplishments aren’t half bad, either. The two-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro has carved out a nice career for himself as a return man extraordinaire (NFL-record eight career kickoff return touchdowns) and receiver out of the backfield (146 receptions).

Patriots fans remember him most vividly from his four seasons in New York after being selected by the Jets in the fourth round of the 2006 draft out of Florida State, where he often worked out alongside future Red Sox shortstop Stephen Drew.

Washington played a huge role in the Jets beating the Pats on Nov.  13, 2008, catching a touchdown and returning a kickoff 92 yards for another score in a memorable 34-31 overtime upset at Foxboro.

“The Jets thing was so long ago, I’m trying to get past it,” Washington said. “You know the Patriots. They do things the right way. It just happens I’m back in the same division that I started in, but I’m just looking forward to going out and making plays.”