Still one of the fastest players in the game, Joey Gathright remains a step and a half short of stardom. An elite athlete who made his big league debut in 2004, Gathright has never managed to fully establish himself, hitting just 262/.323/.303 in 428 games while bouncing from the Rays to the Royals to the Cubs Now with the Orioles, who acquired him in exchange for Ryan Freel earlier this summer, the 28-year-old Gathright is hitting .315/.373/.360 with 19 stolen bases for the Triple-A Norfolk Tides.
David Laurila: Most fans know you for your car-jumping feats. There’s more to you than just that.
Joey Gathright: Well, I think that I do a lot more than just jump cars, and I think that I’ve proven that already. Still, I guess that I have a lot more proving to do, because I’m probably still known more for that than playing baseball.
DL: Have you been stereotyped as a guy who brings speed to the table, and little else?
JG: I think so. I mean, this year a lot of things have changed for me. My arm is stronger. I don’t know how it happened, but my arm is stronger. I can hit the ball. I can play great defense. So, yes, I think that I’ve been labeled as just a speed guy, but I’m trying to prove to people that I’m more than that.
DL: The Orioles are your fourth organization. Have any of them viewed you more objectively than the others?
JG: I’m not really sure. I think that I’ve been the same person everywhere I go. I try to be a good teammate, and all that stuff, but I’m not really sure what the teams think of me, because nobody has ever told me anything. I just try to be the same guy, no matter what, and do the same things. But I can’t really answer that question.
DL: Do you feel there has been a lack of communication regarding the expectations teams have had for you?
JG: I think so. I had a conversation with my agent the other day, and we were talking about spring training. In spring training, you never know what you’re getting yourself into. If you go out and hit .400, and have a great spring, you still never know. Unless you’re an everyday guy, you never know exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, or even if you’re going to be on the team. I think that I’ve been doing that for the last four or five years — I’ve been in the same situation every year. I just haven’t been given an opportunity to just go out and play every day.
DL: Have you been told that you need to draw more walks and improve your OBP?
JG: Not really. I haven’t had much said to me about certain things. I really haven’t. I’ve been told that I need to pull the ball more, but that was a long time ago, and I never really did, because I’ve always been an away hitter. That’s one of the key things I’ve been told.
DL: What have you told yourself?
JG: That I just want to get on base, no matter what. Bunt, run, hit, score a lot of runs and steal a lot of bases. That’s pretty much what I want to do every year.
DL: Are you patient enough at the plate?
JG: I think so. I mean, I have a lot of walks this year. But if you get hits, the walks don’t really matter. I think that it was Ichiro who said that it doesn’t really matter if he walks, because he’s going to hit .300 every year. That’s my theory also, although I do like to draw walks.
DL: Trey Hillman has stressed the importance of OBP, and making pitchers work, yet his team continues to struggle in that area of the game. How did he go about communicating that message when you were with the Royals?
JG: He wanted us to do it, but baseball isn’t as easy to do when you’re out there on the field. It’s easy to go up there and just take two pitches, but if those two pitches are strikes, it’s kind of hard to get on base that way. So, he put it on us — he told us that he wanted us to do it more — but he’s a manager and managers can’t control what guys do up at the plate.
DL: Moving over to the defensive side of the ball, I’ve read that your range factor has declined in recent years. Is that accurate?
JG: Not that I know of. I’m still fast and I can still get to balls. I’m the same speed that I was when I was drafted. So, no, I haven’t heard that. You’re the first person to tell me.
DL: Do you not read much of what is written about you?
JG: No, I don’t read anything, man. I just go out and play the game. I know what I can do, and I think that my numbers here, now, show that I can still play the game. I’m capable of going out and doing it every day, so, like I said, the only thing I can do is come out and play every day. I can’t control what people think about me, and stuff like that.
DL: Do you consciously avoid what is written?
JG: Not really. I just want to play baseball. They can write whatever they want to write. You can’t control what people write, and I’m not one of those guys who reads something just to get motivated by someone writing negative things about me. It’s easy for me to go out and play baseball and have fun with my teammates. It’s not something that you want to do — read negative stuff about you, and your game.
DL: What about objective analysis? Do you feel that there’s value in knowing what the numbers say about your performance?
JG: I’m pretty sure there is value in anything, because if you’re doing something, there’s probably a good reason you’re doing it, but like I said, when you’re on the baseball field, anything can happen. I don’t really think that people can judge you if they’ve never been in your shoes. That’s my thinking. If they’ve never played the game at a higher level, I don’t think they should be able to judge you at all. But that’s just my opinion, and I’m pretty sure that there are other guys who disagree. I just don’t believe in it.
DL: Any final thoughts?
JG: Just that it’s still there. I’m pretty much showing it, still, and whenever the time is right, I’ll get my time to shine.