OAKLAND, Calif. — A day after his dad missed his first birthday, Josh Reddick ran away from his father when he walked through the door. Not because he harbored any resentment or bitterness — or could even understand those feelings at that age. Simply staring at a man whose left hand had been amputated and right reduced to three crumpled fingers left the toddler terrified.
"It scared him," said his mother, Cheryl. "It absolutely petrified him."
This is how one of the most improbable journeys in baseball began, in a living room in southeast Georgia, with a toddler coming to grips with his injured father, Kenny, following an accident that kept him in a burn center during his son's first birthday and had doctors declare him dead three times.
And this is where a kid who learned the game from a man without hands, who was cut by his middle school team — twice — and discarded by the Boston Red Sox finds the resilience to become the starting right fielder for the Oakland Athletics and one of the American League's top home run hitters.
"He's been the biggest influence on my life," said Reddick, batting .259 with a team-best 19 home runs and 41 RBIs entering today's home game against Seattle. "The concept is never give up. I don't take anything for granted. If I look like I'm taking something for granted, I always look to him and get reminded that I can't do that."
Kenny Reddick remembers everything about the day that changed his life and the way he'd raise his son.
He was 25 years old — the same age as his son now — that Saturday afternoon on Jan. 30, 1988, when he took a break from working on a power line for the Savannah Power Co. and returned to find out that, unknown to him, a supervisor had flicked the switch on while he was gone. Some 7,620 volts rushed into his left hand, through his heart and into his right hand instantly.
"Everything went black," Kenny said by phone this week from Rincon, Ga. "I looked out in this bright darkness. There was this tiny, tiny white light. And the only way I can describe it was, it was like you're standing on the beach looking way out and you can start to see the curvature of the earth. It looked like the sun coming up, but it was a thousand, million times brighter. But it didn't hurt your eyes. I knew what was going on. I thought this was a good thing, I'm going in the right direction."
What happened to Reddick next is still somewhat of a mystery.
He describes an out-of-body experience, watching workers scramble to perform CPR on him from above. Each time he blinked, he said, he could see the chaos from another angle. When his body came back to life while receiving mouth-to-mouth, he had to tell them to stop.
"I knew right then and there," he said, "I was not going to die."
Kenny was actually pronounced dead — twice — that day after a two-hour delay for the ambulance. He almost died a third time a week later when an artery burst in the middle of the night and he woke up on a mattress soaked with blood. Doctors amputated his left hand about six inches above the wrist and took arteries and muscles from his back, groin and leg to rebuild his right hand.
Limitations never stopped the Reddick family on the baseball field.
Kenny would make his two sons, Josh and Bradford, hold the bat and instruct them how to swing. The brothers would come home and hit 150 balls off a tee each day. And if they wanted some live action, a strong-armed but erratic right-hander was called in from the kitchen.
"I hit them quite a few times," Cheryl Reddick said. "It's funny now but it wasn't funny then. Momma just couldn't take hurtin' her children."
Eventually, Kenny taught himself to throw a three-fingered ball — though his accuracy wasn't much better. Just being able to play catch with his children was enough.
The turning point in Josh Reddick's career came soon after.
Two years in a row he tried out for the middle school baseball team, and two years in a row he was cut during tryouts. So Kenny formed a traveling team of kids who were cut or didn't try out — fittingly named Reddick's Renegades. By the next summer, they had won a few tournaments, beating the school team each time.
"That was a pretty good accomplishment from our end, being the roughnecks that nobody wanted," Reddick said.
Reddick reluctantly switched from shortstop to outfielder his junior year in high school and never looked back. He hit .461 as a freshman at Middle Georgia College and the Red Sox drafted him in the 17th round in 2006.
But Reddick never became a Fenway favorite. He bounced from the minors to the majors, and coaches tried to drill him so much about plate discipline they even put him in the leadoff spot. Finally, Boston's new front office traded Reddick and two minor leaguers to the A's in December for All-Star closer Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney.
The news came as a surprise to Reddick, who learned of the trade the night before he boarded a Bahamas-bound cruise with a friend in Jacksonville, Fla.
The move turned out to be the breakthrough Reddick needed.
The self-described country boy has found his niche in Oakland's spacious right field and in a clubhouse full of fellow castoffs and up-and-comers.
Reddick often wears a replica WWE championship belt in the clubhouse given to him by his wrestler friend, Triple H, and he's announced at the plate at the Coliseum with bag pipes blaring. The song, "A Cadence to Arms" by the "Dropkick Murphys," is a tribute to Reddick's Irish heritage and one of his favorite movies, "The Boondock Saints."
Before the A's swept his former Red Sox on Wednesday, pitcher Dallas Braden put on some country tunes for Reddick, who was wearing his black "RECK LESS" hat on backward with his shaggy hair hanging out. The slugger slapped his knee and tapped his foot while dancing to John Denver's "Thank God I'm a Country Boy."
"Aside from any baseball stuff, I think it has to do with being comfortable in your own skin," Braden said of Reddick's turnaround. "You got a guy like him, he can come blast his music, dance around, and it puts him in a mode where he's ready to go compete, and he knows he's good. He knew it before, now he can let us all know he knows he's good.
"When you suppress that, you suppress the little boy in some guys," Braden added. "We play a little boy's game."
Reddick has finally been able to rejoice this season.
The slugger's 18 homers before July 1 were the most by an A's hitter before July since Nick Swisher smacked 19 in 2006. His combination of power at the plate and slick fielding in right has forced A's manager Bob Melvin to keep him in the lineup — usually batting third — and made Reddick one of the most notable All-Star snubs.
At least for now, first-year closer Ryan Cook is Oakland's lone representative on the AL team. Reddick admitted he was disappointed but not discouraged.
After all, he's come so far already.
Reddick and his father still talk most days. He tells stories of his father phoning him after hitless games, barking out what to correct in his stance or swing without even watching the game. Then a hitting instructor, with the benefit of live action and video replay, will tell Reddick the same thing.
"He knows me and my game better than anybody," Reddick said. "If we go two days without talking, we feel like something's wrong."