Speedy Gathright seeks spot in outfield
Veteran competing for Jays' left-field job with Snider, Reed
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Joey Gathright's locker inside the Blue Jays' clubhouse at Dunedin Stadium sits one stall to the left of the one belonging to second baseman Aaron Hill. It is a convenient location for poking fun at one another.
You would think it would be Gathright doing the most of the provoking, since he was the one who used his famous jumping abilities to rob Hill of home runs in consecutive games in Kansas City two seasons ago. Gathright laughs when asked if he has been teasing his clubhouse neighbor much this spring.
"Man, he reminds me every day," Gathright said.
Thanks to his speed and ability to play multiple outfield positions, Gathright has a solid shot at making the Jays' Opening Day roster with a good showing this spring. That means Gathright could be hearing a lot from Hill about those memorable catches as the seasons progresses.
Hill has his reasons, though.
It all started in the ninth inning on Aug. 11, 2007. With a runner on second base, Hill launched a pitch deep to left field at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. Gathright -- manning left for the Royals -- sprinted across the grass and toward the wall, leaping up and reaching over the fence to steal the baseball out of the air.
One day after that amazing grab ended the game and sent the Jays to a 4-1 loss, Hill stepped back into the batter's box for a fourth-inning at-bat. Royals catcher John Buck, who is now Toronto's starter behind the plate, joked that it would be funny if Gathright robbed Hill a second time.
"Next at-bat. Next pitch. Same thing," said Hill, rolling his eyes. "That was fun. It was one of those things that you don't see at all in baseball. It was neat."
But things did not end there.
That Christmas, former Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay drew Hill's name in a team gift exchange. When Hill opened his present, he pulled out a signed jersey from Gathright. Hill said he has the uniform top hanging on his wall at home, but added that the display will not be complete until there are two framed photos of Gathright's catches.
"He wants me to get the picture for him from Kansas City," Gathright said. "He brings it up all the time."
It is clear that Gathright did not need much time to feel at home with the Jays.
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Toronto signed Gathright to a Minor League contract over the winter for more than what he might bring to a clubhouse, though. The Blue Jays believe the outfielder can give them the type of speed they have been lacking in recent seasons. Gathright can also fill in as a leadoff hitter on days Jose Bautista is not in the lineup or in center field if Vernon Wells needs rest.
It was that type of versatility that made Gathright attractive for the Jays. For Gathright, signing with Toronto made sense based on the chances to earn a spot on the Major League roster.
"Vernon's the only set outfielder here," Gathright said. "There's a lot of opportunity here. I have places I could've gone, but the opportunity wasn't there like it is here. Being a smart guy, I'm going to choose the place where I have the opportunity to go out and have a good spring and let that translate into maybe playing a lot."
As Gathright noted, Wells is the only player guaranteed a spot in the outfield. Bautista, who has been having a strong spring at the plate, appears to be in line to open the season as the regular right fielder and leadoff man. That leaves left field up for grabs. The leading contender for the job in left is Travis Snider, with Gathright and Jeremy Reed also in the mix.
Of the three, Snider is the only player considered to be a large part of Toronto's future. That being the case, Snider would have the edge for the job in left with a good spring. That means Gathright, Reed and utility man Mike McCoy would be in a three-way fight for a spot on the Jays' bench. A lot depends on Snider, who could also open the year with Triple-A Las Vegas.
"Snider's got a chance to make this club," manager Cito Gaston said. "We want him to make this club, because you've got to go and look at the long-term future of this club. Is it more with Gathright, or is it more with Snider? ... Gathright, he's got a chance to make the club, but it's probably as an extra outfielder or, if Snider just falls on his face, an everyday outfielder."
Gathright said Gaston expressed confidence in his ability to make the team.
"He mentioned it briefly," Gathright said. "He just said, 'Do your job and everything will be fine.' You can't really predict anything. If you don't have a good spring, you're going to end up where you end up. But, if you have a good spring, do your job and do all the things that you're supposed to do, good things will happen."
Good things like helping Gathright possibly become known for more than the 44-second video clip of him running and jumping over a couple cars in 2002. Gathright has played in six big league seasons with four different teams (Rays, Royals, Cubs and Red Sox) with varying levels of success. Still, he is best known for the video his friends took of him during his first year as a pro.
Questions about jumping over cars used to annoy Gathright. He has learned to just accept it for what it is now.
"I'm more known for that than playing baseball," he said. "Whatever, man. It's better to be known for something than nothing."
Around the Blue Jays, Gathright is known more for robbing those home runs from Hill.
"That I don't mind," he said with a smile.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.