Disability no obstacle for Reddicks
Father taught Red Sox prospect the game of baseball with one three-fingered hand
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- When his father finally came home after missing his son's first birthday, the toddler was afraid of him. At least that's what his parents later told Josh Reddick about his reaction to seeing his father, Kenny, return from a burn center in Kentucky with his left hand missing and his right hand reduced to three fingers permanently locked in a claw.
He's the one who taught me how to hit, with no hands.” -- Josh Reddick on his father, who lost his left hand and all but three fingers of his right hand in an accident.
"They said when he came home, I wouldn't go anywhere near him, because it was totally different," Reddick said. "I was scared of him."
This is how it begins, the story of a kid who is this close to becoming a big leaguer after being taught how to play the game by a man with no hands.
"He's the one who taught me everything. He's the one who taught me how to hit, with no hands," said the 23-year-old country boy from Georgia who seldom hears his own name in the Red Sox clubhouse because everyone calls him "Stifler" after the "American Pie" character he resembles, or so he's been told since high school.
It's something of a miracle that Kenny Reddick was able to be a part of this story at all, after 7,500 volts of electricity hot through his body while he was working for the power company back home. He'd been up in his bucket truck, working on a pole with the power shut off. He took a break for lunch, and while he was gone a supervisor ordered the juice to be turned back on.
After lunch, that's how Kenny Reddick came to be electrocuted.
"He was claimed dead three times," Josh Reddick says, "and they brought him back each time."
Kenny Reddick lived to be able to tell his family what it felt like to die.
"He said he had an out-of-body experience twice," his son said. "He saw the white light twice. He was floating over his body, watching the doctors work on him. There was no pain. He said it was the most peaceful time he's ever had in his life."
The otherworldly tranquility did not last. Kenny's left hand was amputated about six inches above the wrist. 'They took a muscle out of his back," Josh Reddick says, "and put it in his [right] forearm to make his three fingers operate. To this day, they barely move."
There was pain and frustration and despair for a man, Josh Reddick said, who loved work and couldn't stand doing nothing. Kenny Reddick's days at the power company were over and he went on disability, though his son says his dad and the company are still wrangling over settlement terms. "Probably won't ever happen," Josh Reddick said, "until after he dies."
As Kenny Reddick was left to figure out how to put his life back together, his two little boys, Josh and older brother Bradford, looked to him to be a dad just like the other dads. A dad who could come out to the backyard and play catch.
Kenny Reddick forced himself to learn how to hold a ball with his three remaining fingers and throw it.
"It's crazy," Josh Reddick says. "We've got videos of him back home, showing how he did it.
"He worked with me a lot. If he wanted to show me something, he'd make me hold the bat and then he'd move my hands where he wanted me to, then he'd go out there and throw to me."
Kenny Reddick didn't set out to make his son a ballplayer. "But all I've ever wanted to do since I was 5 was play baseball," Josh Reddick said, "and once he realized that, he said he'd do everything he could to support me."
The father bought the son a tee and a net and soon had him taking 150 swings a day. "I'd come home from school," Josh Reddick said, "and he'd be waiting for me. I'd say, 'I have homework.' He'd say, 'No, do this first.'"
Reddick smiles. "I wasn't a smart kid, anyway," he said. "I didn't try."
Early on, there were setbacks. "You know how Michael Jordan got cut from his high school team?" Josh Reddick says. "I got cut from my middle-school team. Politics, I think."
Kenny Reddick took Josh and the other kids who didn't make the team and formed his own team. That summer they played the school team, and all these years later Josh Reddick's voice can't conceal his satisfaction over the whipping his team administered.
Kenny and Cheryl Reddick, Josh's mother, found a way to send their son to the youth and high school tournaments in which he tested himself against better and better competition.
"My grandparents thought they were stupid for spending all that money, but they were very supportive.
"People said, 'Well, what's your backup plan if pro baseball doesn't work out?' I said, 'It's going to work out.' I never had a backup plan."
In 2006, after hitting .461 as a freshman for Middle Georgia College, the pride of Guyton, Ga. ("J.D. Drew says his town has one stoplight. I think we have four.") was drafted in the 17th round by the Red Sox.
In his first three seasons in the organization, the team has tried to pound into him the virtues of better plate discipline.
"Last year was a big step for me," Reddick said. "They moved me to leadoff hitter to make me lay off pitches more. I found myself staying back on a lot more pitches. My manager, Arnie [Portland's Arnie Beyeler], stayed on me, hard-nosed. I needed that. It made me realize they weren't kidding about it."
And from afar, help was still coming from Kenny Reddick.
"When I was in Lancaster [Calif., in Class A ball], that was the hardest for them, because they couldn't come see me," Josh Reddick says.
"But I could call him and have a bad two or three games and he'd say, 'Oh, what are you doing?' I said, 'I popped up to short or flew out to right,' and he'd tell me, 'Keep your damn back elbow up and keep your head down and you won't do that stupid stuff.'
"To this day, he knows what I'm doing wrong."
In September, when big league rosters expanded, Josh Reddick was summoned to Boston. Kenny Reddick was there to see his son play in the big leagues.
Now Josh Reddick is trying to find a way to win a job in a Red Sox outfield that appears set for the season. Reddick is having a huge spring, batting .478 entering play Tuesday. That includes the two-run home run he hit Monday off Baltimore's top pitching prospect, Chris Tillman, when he sat on a changeup and got it, crushing it to right field.
Reddick is realistic about his chances of trying to win a job. "I don't feel like I'm going to change their minds," he said, "whether I hit .800 and they hit .200 or vice versa.
"I don't want to say anything bad about my teammates, but it depends on how J.D. [Drew] feels all year and depends on how Jeremy [Hermida] hits and performs. Even if it doesn't work out with these guys, hopefully I can go somewhere else. But if I sit in the minors for a while, I'll be happy. As long as I'm playing and healthy, I'm not going to get mad if I'm not called up. I just want to play."
Kenny Reddick, who with no hands taught his son how to play baseball, still can't stand doing nothing. He has his own lawn-care business now and is out there hustling business back in Guyton.
It's one of the things Josh Reddick thinks about when he imagines himself playing in the big leagues.
"I'm kind of hoping that I can get here quicker than I need to and make a little money," he said. "As bad as it might sound, that way I can get my own place and have him keep up my yard. It's just something he loves to do."
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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