12/19/2002 7:18 pm ET
Toe Nash joins Reds organization
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
CINCINNATI -- The Reds often have been willing to take a chance on a player's ability. In the case of outfielder Greg "Toe" Nash, they're also placing faith in his character.
Nash, who gained a measure of celebrity two years ago when the Tampa Bay Devil Rays plucked him from the swamps of Louisiana, has signed a minor league contract with Cincinnati. The Reds organization is willing to believe that Nash, 20, has matured sufficiently and overcome the legal problems that kept his immense skills literally and figuratively imprisoned for a year.
Nash isn't Cincinnati's first reclamation project. The Reds gambled and won with the likes of Ron Gant and Mark Wohlers, who overcame serious injuries to revive their careers. By contrast, Cincinnati quickly jettisoned talented yet troubled acquisitions such as outfielders Michael Coleman and Curtis Goodwin. The Reds' current 40-man roster includes right-hander Chris Booker and outfielder Wily Mo Pena, two others whose production may or may not match their promise.
"We have a young man who's extremely talented in our sport," Reds farm director Tim Naehring said Thursday. "Obviously, he has kind of a tarnished background. There are probably many sides of this story. He made a mistake, he served his time and the Reds are going to give him a second chance ... If he can handle himself like a professional between the lines and, more importantly, away from the park, we'll be patient with him."
Nash, whose size 18 shoe accounts for his nickname, spent nearly nine months in jail earlier this year in Ascension Parish, La., near his hometown of Sorrento, after he was charged with having sex with a 15-year-old girl.
Nash, who never attended high school and by all accounts received little parental guidance and grew up in extreme poverty, confessed to having consensual sex with the girl, according to published reports. The Devil Rays released Nash in late September, one day after he was released from jail. He will remain on probation for five years.
The Reds showed their belief in Nash when his agent, Larry Reynolds, met club officials during last weekend's Winter Meetings in Nashville, Tenn.
"I think the bottom line is that (scouting director) Leland Maddox and Tim Naehring gave me the impression that people deserve another opportunity," Reynolds said. "That was the overriding comfort I had in this whole deal."
"After talking with his agent, I don't anticipate any problems whatsoever," Naehring said. "I think (Nash) got caught up in the wrong situation, like many people have."
Nash became an object of curiosity two offseasons ago when Devil Rays scout Benny Latino saw the 6-foot-6 youth hitting prodigious home runs and displaying a cannon arm in a Louisiana adult league. Nash signed for a $30,000 bonus and began the 2001 season slowly with Class-A Princeton but finished strong to hit .240 with eight home runs and 29 RBIs in 47 games.
Aware that Nash has spent nearly two years away from baseball and that his skills were raw to begin with, the Reds plan to bring him along slowly. "We really don't have to make a serious decision on Toe until mid-June," Naehring said, pointing out that until that time, when draft choices are assigned to teams, Nash could remain in extended Spring Training. Naehring also indicated that if Nash progresses smoothly, he could play for Dayton, Cincinnati's low Class-A affiliate, before the season ends.
The Reds also will monitor Nash's behavior. But that doesn't make him an exception.
"What's directed toward Toe Nash is directed toward everybody who puts on a Reds uniform," Naehring said. "We have a strict sense of rules that will be followed. That's not going to compromised for anyone."
Said Reynolds, "Toe's had his share of wakeup calls. I think he realizes that not only does he need to stay focused, but that there are a lot of people who recognize him as a public figure and that he has to pick and choose who he gets involved with."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.