Grit, speed help Gathright back to bigs

The Red Sox were looking for a player who could steal a base. They found him in Yuma, Ariz., at the end of his independent league season, on a 115-degree day.

With his agent throwing him batting practice, no less.

Outfielder Joey Gathright, signed to a minor league contract Aug. 31, will rejoin the Red Sox on Tuesday night. His last appearance in the majors was with the Sox in 2009. He could not possibly have imagined getting back like this.

Jared Porter, the Red Sox’s assistant director of professional scouting, had worked with his scouts to compile a list of six speedsters for the team to target. Gathright, playing for the Yuma Scorpions in the independent North American League, was on the list.

How far is Yuma from the baseball mainstream?

Here is all you need to know: The Scorpions’ manager was none other than Jose Canseco.

Undaunted, Sox VP Allard Baird called Gathright’s agent, Larry Reynolds, near the end of August, looking for the player. Reynolds told Baird that Yuma’s season had ended Aug. 28, but the team had one more exhibition Aug. 31.

No good, Baird thought; he might not see enough of Gathright in such a contest, might not even see him run. Gathright, 30, had served as Yuma’s backup catcher, for goodness’ sake. Who knew what kind of shape he was in?

“I thought we could better evaluate him if we got our hands on him,” Baird said. “Larry and I go way back. I said, ‘Larry, if we could arrange this (a workout) it would be good, a better assessment.”

Now Reynolds was stumped.

“I started scratching my head,” Reynolds said. “Once an independent team finishes, they’re going to scatter. I asked (Baird), ‘What do you need?’ He said, ‘I want to see him run. I wouldn’t mind seeing him hit a little bit.”

Reynolds called Gathright.

“I think the Red Sox want to work you out,” he said. “I hope you’re in good shape.”

“I’m ready to go,” Gathright replied.

Reynolds then dropped a little bombshell.

“Guess who is going to throw you batting practice?” he asked Gathright.

The answer wasn’t Theo Epstein, that’s for sure.

Reynolds, 54, was a defensive back and center fielder at Stanford, a fourth-round pick of the Rangers in 1979. He played six seasons in the minors, peaking at Double A. And he still throws BP for kids in his neighborhood in Riverside, Calif; his younger son, Justin, plays high school ball.

Baird and Reynolds agreed that Gathright’s workout would be Aug. 30. Baird flew to Yuma from Reno. Reynolds made the 3½-hour drive from Riverside.

And the Red Sox got their “visual.”

“It was probably more like what (Gathright) had to experience as an amateur than as a professional,” Baird said. “We tried to simulate as many things as possible, realizing it was not major league or Triple-A speed.”

Gathright ran home-to-first, first-to-third. Reynolds threw BP to him. Hit him flyballs in center field. Simulated pitching both right-handed and left-handed so Baird could watch Gathright’s takeoffs from first base.

“It was hot,” Reynolds said. “I was joking with Allard, ‘I’m getting a little wobbly. Let’s go inside and find a restaurant.’

“We went to a restaurant. On the way over, (Baird) called the front office and got started (on a contract). It was pretty much done on the spot — within an hour after the workout, we worked out a quick little deal.”

The Red Sox guaranteed Gathright nothing but a chance to play at Triple A, yet signed him in time to make him eligible for their postseason roster. Canseco actually broke the news of the signing on Twitter.

Reynolds, whose more prominent clients include the Angels’ Torii Hunter, Diamondbacks’ Justin Upton and Rays’ B.J. Upton, simply wanted Gathright to get another chance — even if it meant driving 3½ hours to throw him BP in 115-degree heat.

“It says a lot about Larry,” Baird said. “He wanted to be involved in the workout. Not many agents would do that.”

All Reynolds wanted was to hear the magic words, the words that make everything worthwhile for both he and his client.

Joey Gathright is back in the big leagues.