Royals Gathwright Proving Himself

The search was on in the visitors' clubhouse at Chicago several days ago. Joey Gathright was nowhere to be seen. It was too early for batting practice, maybe he was in the ... wait a minute.

Sticking out of a dressing stall onto a chair are two blue-socked feet in shower clogs. There's an iPhone resting on a thigh. An earphone cord snakes behind a drapery of baseball uniforms on hangers.

Eventually, the curtain of shirts and pants rustles and parts. Sure enough, a sleepy-eyed Gathright emerges. Fighting a cold, he's been trying to snooze before the game, listening to James Blunt.

"It's kind of like mellow, relaxing love songs," he said.

Not too comfortable being scrunched up like that, though.

Gathright is not complaining. He's in the Major Leagues and he's playing regularly.

And why not? He's become a dynamo in a relatively short time. In just 44 games, he's batting .358 and has put on quite a show.

Take the last road trip through Texas, Oakland and Chicago. Gathright hit .414 (12-for-29). He stole back-to-back bases during a Mark Grudzielanek at-bat. He swooped around left field for some fine catches.

And, in one danger-defying sequence at Chicago, he chased a foul ball into the stands, executing a wild head-over-heels flip that connected his noggin with something very hard -- perhaps steel or concrete. Fortunately, he escaped that highlight moment with nothing more than a headache.

Yes, Gathright plays with dash, daring and flare.

"I've been doing it all year, ever since me and Dave talked," he said. "I've done everything he's told me.

Ummm...Dave?

"Garcia, not DeJesus," Gathright said, smiling.

Davey Garcia is a Royals scout, advisor and patron saint who is in his 70th year of pro baseball. He's the same guy who used to manage the Indians and the Angels. At 86, he has a lot of knowledge to impart.

"We talked early this spring," Gathright said. "He just told me what type of player he thought I should be. He's been around the game for a long time and he told me all the things I should be doing and how to do them. Ever since Spring Training, that's basically where my game came from -- from talking to him."

A left-handed hitter, Gathright was obtained last season from the Devil Rays in a trade for pitcher J.P. Howell. Gathright played in 79 games with the Royals and batted .262, showing off his impressive speed.

This year, he didn't make the club out of Spring Training and went to Triple-A Omaha, where he batted .328 before getting called up on June 6. With the Royals, he did well enough (.315), but was returned to Omaha when Reggie Sanders came off the disabled list.

Born in Mississippi, Gathright developed his athletic skills at Bonnabel High School in Kenner, La. For a while, he lived in New Orleans, but now makes his home in Kansas City.

"I've always been that expendable guy; I had an option this year," Gathright said. "In Tampa [Bay], I was always that young guy that didn't have a lot of money. It didn't really matter. Just put me on a baseball field and we can make something happen."

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"I'll hit wherever they want to hit me. If it's the 10th slot, I'll hit 10th. I'm still in the big leagues, so I really don't care."
-- Royals outfielder
Joey Gathright

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True enough. Back at Omaha, from July 20-30, he ripped off a .405 average (15-for-37) and was summoned again to Kansas City when Sanders went on the DL again. Since that recall, Gathright has hit .391 (25-for-64). In the last two games at Chicago, he finally earned his way up to the leadoff spot and, of all the luck, went just 1-for-9.

"It's comfortable because I've always hit there," he said. "I've always hit against lefties; I don't mind lefties. Everything is up to them. I'll hit wherever they want to hit me. If it's the 10th slot, I'll hit 10th. I'm still in the big leagues, so I really don't care."

Sure enough, against left-handed pitchers this season, Gathright is 10-for-21, .476. Admittedly, the overall sample also is relatively small, but he's hit left-handers better (.296) than right-handers (.265) in the Majors.

And did we mention his speed?

Gathright once was timed in a blazing 3.3 seconds from home plate to first on a bunt.

"Bunt hits? This year? Including the Minor Leagues, maybe 20 or 25," he said. "Down there, I've done it a lot, but I haven't been so successful here for some reason. But it's starting to come back, slowly but surely. I'm going to bunt a lot, so it'll start coming sooner or later."

In his first at-bat on Monday against the White Sox, he dropped a perfect bunt to second base for a hit.

"He's done everything pretty good since he's been up here," manager Buddy Bell said. "We're pretty pleased with his progress offensively, certainly. He still needs to work on his base-stealing skills. It has a lot to do with leads and and instincts and things like that, but he's played the outfield great."

For the Royals, Gathright has nine stolen bases in 13 attempts.

Billy Doran, the Royals' base-running coach, said the key is getting the right lead, being comfortable you won't be picked off and thinking only about getting to second.

"Sometimes, you get off too far and you're worried about getting back," Doran said. "You've got to eliminate first base from your thinking and be 100 percent committed to where you're going."

One advantage Gathright has, Doran said, is he's "just as quick as he is fast."

Gathright, with the Devil Rays and then with the Royals last year, received a lot of advice about his hitting and tried to implement changes. Not this year.

"I've always hit and I know I can hit, but you can't be consistent when you're changing so many things," he said. "And so this year I didn't change it, just got back to normal, how I used to do it."

Hitting coach Mike Barnett said that Gathright has a good balance in his stance and maximizes the use of his hands.

"Basically, he drops the head of the bat onto the ball; he has a good short path to the ball," Barnett said.

Gathright has just one home run in his 273 Major League at-bats.

"I'm a slap-hitting left fielder; I'm not going to be like Manny [Ramirez] and all those other guys," he said. "I'm just going to get on base and let the other guys hit me in."

If Davey Garcia is Gathright's guiding light, then David DeJesus is his video-game buddy.

"We hang out together and try to stay away from baseball," DeJesus said. "Baseball is enough being here seven or eight hours. You just want to get away. It's good to have a bud on the team that you can do that with."

When Gathright is alone, he likes to dabble in drawing, particularly animation-type cartoon characters.

"I'm thinking about getting into painting," he said. "I figure if I can already draw, painting shouldn't be that hard, but I hear it's not as easy as you think."

Gathright has fit right in with the Royals.

"He's a great teammate, a great guy -- just a great spirit to have on the bench and I think he's proving himself," DeJesus said.


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