Gathright Has Provided Much-Needed Boost To Bats

Contributing Writer

Joey Gathright

Joey Gathright

The Louisville Bats have been beset by hardships for much of the 2012 season, leading to plenty of glum faces in the clubhouse. But after one painfully close loss, the discontent on Neftali Soto’s face vanished and his lips creased into a wide smile at the mention of Joey Gathright.

“I love that guy,” Soto said of his Louisville teammate, whose contract was purchased in late May by the Cincinnati Reds from the Bridgeport Bluefish of the independent Atlantic League. “He’s funny, he’s always that quick-(witted) player. He’s always making fun. During tough times, that’s the kind of player we want on the team.”

Speaking of getting kidded, that’s exactly what Gathright thought Willie Upshaw was doing to him when the Bluefish manager and former Toronto Blue Jay stopped him as he was leaving the ballpark after a game and informed him that the Reds had called about him. Despite owning a resume that includes seven big league seasons, Gathright didn’t think Upshaw was serious.

“I thought he was joking around,” Gathright said. “I was hitting .240, but I got lucky.

“You never expect anything nowadays. The game is getting a little tougher. You’ve got young guys coming all the time. I didn’t expect anything. I just go out there every day and I don’t really think about it – just play my game and something happened for me this year early.”

Gathright made things happen early in his tenure with the Bats. When the 31-year-old centerfielder arrived, the longest hitting streak on the team that season had been eight games. Gathright set a new standard in his ninth game. Through his first 10 outings, he batted .368 and recorded a pair of three-hit performances while playing flawlessly in the outfield.

“He’s been somebody that has stepped in and really helped us a lot,” Bats manager David Bell said. “The energy that he provides at the top of the order, the experience that he brings, he’s had success in the major leagues, Triple-A. He knows how to play, and we’re happy to have him.”

Most of Gathright’s big league background came with the Kansas City Royals and Tampa Bay Rays. He’s also had stints with the Chicago Cubs and most recently the Boston Red Sox, for which he played in seven games in 2011. While with Kansas City, Gathright recalled getting instruction during spring trainings from Mr. Royal himself, George Brett.

“He was cool,” said Gathright, who played three seasons with the Royals. “He tells a lot of great stories (about) when he played, and they are amazing. We talked a lot, and I got a lot of tips from him also.”

The Hall of Famer obviously rubbed off on him. Gathright’s best season in the big leagues came in 2007 while he was with the Royals, when he batted .307. However, his most vivid memory of his time in The Show came in 2009 at Yankee Stadium compliments of Alex Rodriguez.

“The coolest moment I ever had was against us, when A-Rod hit his 500th (home run),” Gathright said. “I was in leftfield. Just the way the fans were loud and screaming. I couldn’t hear anything.”

Gathright is also no stranger to making jaws drop. There’s a video of him posted on YouTube that has received over 25,000 hits, which shows him hurdling a pair of cars in a parking lot. In his early 20s at the time, Gathright leaps over a Mitsubishi Galant with astonishing ease. Not satisfied, he and his cameraman locate a BMW, which Gathright promptly soars over before landing gracefully on his feet. It was a daring stunt Gathright first tried as a sophomore in high school.

“It was after football practice,” he recalled. “I don’t know why, but I just decided to jump the car. Still to this day, I don’t know why.”

Was he certain he could make it?

“No,” Gathright admitted. “I didn’t know, didn’t think about it. I’m like, ‘I’m going to try to get up and jump over my coach’s (car) roof.’ I did it and I made it, and I kept doing it. People wanted to see it all the time.”

Soto, for one, wouldn’t be surprised by such spontaneity from Gathright. The 23-year-old first baseman offered that he often dwells on a bad at-bat or a poor play in the field, allowing it to affect his next opportunity. Gathright, Soto has observed, doesn’t get down on himself for a poor play or two.

“There’s always a next day, there’s always a next at-bat,” Soto said. “That’s what I want to learn from him, because he’s always in the moment.”

Being only 31, Gathright still has plenty of baseball left in him. But when the time comes for him to hang up his cleats, the considerable influence he exhibits on his teammates suggests he might be a natural coach. He and wife Tiara recently floated the idea around.

“When I hit 30, I realized I have to start teaching a little bit more,” Gathright said. “When I was in Bridgeport, I taught a lot of guys about baserunning and stuff like that. As you get older, you realize it’s not about you all the time. Why not help other guys?”

Whether it’s offering a word of support to a slumping teammate, making a diving catch or slapping yet another line drive base hit, Gathright has assisted the Bats in so many ways.

“If you’ve had success, you’re doing something right,” Bell said. “A lot of times the guy that has had success, you naturally look to them to see how they go about it.

“We got lucky to get him,” Bell added. “We feel very fortunate to have him on our team.”

And that’s no joke.