|Gathright learns from Canseco, Phillips in Yuma||| Print ||
Written by Jim Mancari (Contact & Archive) on September 05, 2011
The Yuma Scorpions was chock full of former Major League players this summer. Their knowledge and experience, however, couldn't produce a winning season.
But sometimes baseball is more than simply wins and losses, especially in the independent leagues. It's also a great way for veterans to continue playing the game they love or for younger players to make a name for themselves.
Speedy former Major League outfielder Joey Gathright played for the Scorpions this summer after being released by the independent Shreveport-Bossier Captains. The 30-year-old center fielder played so well that the Boston Red Sox recently signed him to a minor-league contract for the remainder of the season.
"I've had a good time playing with Jose," Gathright said. "He's a fun-loving guy. I didn't know what to expect when I got there."
Though their paths never crossed until this season, Gathright claimed that Canseco recognized him when he arrived in June. Gathright enjoyed the stress-free atmosphere that Canseco created.
And boy can Canseco still hit. In 60 games, he crushed eight home runs -- some of which still haven't been found. Not bad for a 47-year-old.
Of course, Canseco has been labeled as a "bad guy" by the media for his involvement with steroids. (He didn't speak to AtHomePlate.com for this column after asking for compensation.)
Gathright, however, believes that the media labels of Canseco are unfair. Gathright refused to speak about what he and Canseco had discussed concerning steroids.
Further adding to the media spectacle, Canseco spent time on the mound this season, displaying a dancing knuckleball. Though Canseco's 10.44 ERA doesn't say much, Gathright said that he went through stretches of being very effective.
He has a ton of respect for Canseco. He thinks it's unbelievable that someone like Canseco that has been publicly berated can still show his face by playing baseball and love what he's doing.
In addition to Canseco, Gathright also soaked in all that 52-year-old former pro Tony Phillips had to say, especially in dealing with the mental side of the game. Phillips was in the prime of his career when Gathright was still just learning the game.
"It was amazing," Gathright said. "You never get to play with someone who is an 18-year Major League veteran. He taught me to help and focus on everyone on the team and not just yourself. I have nothing but respect for him."
In the same fashion that Phillips and Canseco paved the way for Gathright, Gathright returned the favor to two talented Scorpions players, Jared McDonald and J.J. Muse. In addition to leading by example (.347 batting average in 61 games with 20 stolen bases), he made it a point to take the younger players under his wing.
"As you get older, you realize that you have to help other people," Gathright said.
McDonald had a brief stint in the Chicago White Sox system, but it was very limited. He finished the year hitting .329 with six home runs and 53 RBIs. Muse actually was never drafted, but Gathright claims he was one of the more talented players in the league. Muse batted .310 with seven home runs and 52 RBIs.
"Those were two guys that seemed like they wanted to take it in, and they went on to have successful seasons this year," Gathright said. "Any guy that wants to learn these things, I'm willing to teach."
Gathright admits that life in the independent league was much different than life in the big leagues. While players are able to focus solely on baseball in the majors, independent league players are forced to worry about their luggage, travel arrangements and getting paid on time in addition to their performance on the field.
Additionally, the talent level is understandably not the same. Though the North American League is home to many former big leaguers, the majority of the players have never made it big.
As he attempts a comeback to the Major Leagues, Gathright hopes to take the lessons he learned from Phillips, Canseco and the rest of the Scorpions to earn a call-up from the Red Sox.