St. John's basketball player a Reds pitching prospect, too

New York Times News ServiceMay 1, 2012 

St Johns Cincinnati Basketball

St. John's forward Amir Garrett (22) in action against Cincinnati in an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Jan. 7, 2012, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Al Behrman)

AL BEHRMAN — ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — A breeze blew through Jack Kaiser Stadium while the St. John's baseball team took batting practice recently. Amir Garrett, shivering, sat on top of the dugout holding the divergent paths of his future in each hand. A basketball in the right, a baseball in the left. He began to juggle them.

Garrett, still wearing a sweat-soaked red T-shirt from his basketball workout, peered at the practice under way behind him. "Man," he said, "I should've brought my glove."

The glove is in his gym bag, untouched since last summer, when the Cincinnati Reds drafted him out of high school based on a left arm they believe is full of potential.

The Reds were undeterred that the 6-foot-6 Garrett had committed to play basketball and baseball at St. John's. They signed him to a $1 million contract, agreed to let him play forward for the Red Storm this winter and asked him to be ready to report to their player development complex in Goodyear, Ariz., once the academic year ended.

Now a month away from doing just that, Garrett is in a springtime no man's land. Basketball season is over. NCAA rules prohibit him from playing baseball for the Red Storm. Classes remain. Eligibility pitfalls abound. And a question lingers.

"Everybody asks me which sport I like more," Garrett said. "I can't really pick between the two right now. They're both the same. I love them both."

Since Aug. 15, when he signed with the Reds, Garrett has not pitched a baseball. His only diamond-related activity comes as a member of Angelica's Omelets, a team in a unisex campus softball league he plays in every Sunday.

"They don't let me play in the field because nobody can catch me," Garrett said. "So I just DH."

But Garrett has assurances uncommon to almost every college athlete in the country because the Reds — choosing him in the 22nd round of the draft — invested in him to the point that Garrett's family was caught by surprise.

"When they said million-dollar signing bonus, that just changed everything," his father, Darrow Garrett, said.

Garrett decided to sign and forgo playing baseball for the Red Storm, although he is still eligible to play basketball without a scholarship.

Garrett averaged 7.4 points and four rebounds in 22 games for the Red Storm this season after joining the team in December. (He was academically ineligible for the first semester, which he spent at Bridgton Academy in Maine.)

The Reds discovered him in May at an arranged tryout in front of 22 scouts. He had not pitched a game in almost a year and had resumed throwing just three weeks before the tryout. Yet his pitches were clocked in the mid-90s.

The Reds liked his velocity, the looseness of his arm and his instinctive motion.

"Almost everything he does is totally natural," said ChrisBuckley, the Reds' senior director for amateur scouting. "We just wonder what he could do if he was punching away full time."

Garrett's first love was baseball, starting when he was 3. His grandfather taught Garrett how to pitch, and he developed into a young star on travel teams in Nevada. But his grandfather died when Garrett was in eighth grade, and he stopped playing.

When he started pitching again before his junior year, Garrett found his arm could work wonders.

"That was God blessing him with something, that's all I can tell you," Darrow Garrett said. "He has to make up his mind on what he wants to be, but I think he can be whatever he wants."

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