ANAHEIM — Boston Red Sox catcher Damon Berryhill had it easy once. There was a time when he was a baseball phenom. A No. 1 draft pick. A can't-miss-kid.
That guy no longer exists.
In his place is the castoff. The journeyman. The guy no one really wanted but can't seem to do without.
"I seem to have to prove myself every year," said Berryhill, who is 30. "I have to out-perform the next guy. There hasn't been a club say, 'You're our No. 1 catcher. Here's a three-year deal.' "
Here's your hat, there's the door, has usually been the case.
Berryhill, a graduate of Laguna Beach High School, was the Chicago Cubs' top draft pick in January, 1984. He played in the postseason with the Atlanta Braves and was briefly a World Series hero in 1992. Yet both organizations gave up on him.
But his bags may be in Boston for a while.
Berryhill has out-performed the competition again. He was the team's fourth catcher during spring training, but he was the survivor in the end.
"Everywhere Damon has gone, he's won the job," Red Sox Coach John Wathan said. "You have to be impressed with that."
Berryhill, it seems, has a lot of admirers these days.
Roger Clemens can't live--or pitch--without him. Berryhill became Clemens' personal caddie almost immediately, catching every time the Red Sox ace threw.
"Damon and I really click together," Clemens said. "He's always calm and collected. You never sense panic in him. I'd love to have him here for a number of years."
What Roger wants, Roger usually gets from the Red Sox. Berryhill, though, has done enough to earn the job without the lobbying.
True, his .251 batting average seems pulp in the year of the juiced ball. But he is hitting .302 with runners in scoring position and 12 of his 28 runs batted in have either tied games or put the Red Sox ahead.
He hit .327 in May, which pretty much secured his spot as as the No. 1 catcher.
Defensively, Berryhill's throwing has never been the same since he tore his rotator cuff in 1989. He has thrown out only a little more than 30% of base stealers this season. Yet, Sunday he gunned down Rickey Henderson, baseball's all-time base stealer, in a key situation. Berryhill threw out three would-be base stealers Tuesday against the Angels.
"Damon's out here early every day," Manager Butch Hobson said. "He's constantly working. His personality is great for a team. You can't help but like him."
The Red Sox liked him so much that catcher David Valle was dealt to the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Tom Brunansky on June 19. The Red Sox had forked over $1.2 million to Valle during the off-season, certain that he would be their catcher.
Berryhill had merited only a minor league contract after being released by the Braves, but then the Red Sox got a closer look at him.
"Damon was a nonroster player when spring training began, but when it was over there was no doubt he belonged on the team," Wathan said.
Said Berryhill: "It always seems like I'm on teams that like another catcher and they're going to play that guy. Then I end up with the job."
It hasn't always been that way.
Berryhill was a two-sport star at Laguna Beach. Of course, it's a school known for sports that need sunscreen, not a backstop.
The Artists won only one game his senior year. Berryhill, though, was a four-year starter with the Artists, not that anyone noticed.
"I think I played in front of one scout in four years and he was there watching a player from another team," Berryhill said.
The attention came in a rush. After two solid seasons at Orange Coast College, the Cubs made him their No. 1 pick. Four years later, he fulfilled that promise and was in their starting lineup.
Things were good. He was even named to one all-rookie team in 1988. Then things went bad. He had surgery after his shoulder injury in 1989 and missed most of the following season. By the time he was 100% healthy, the Cubs weren't 100% behind him, or so it seemed to Berryhill.
"They gave me about 50 at-bats (in 1991), then gave up on me," Berryhill said. "It was almost like missing another whole season. They had obviously decided to go in another way."
And Berryhill's direction was south. He had asked to be traded throughout the season and the Cubs finally obliged him with six games left, shipping him to Atlanta.
He had one at-bat for the Braves and struck out. Not a great base on which to rebuild a career.
"I was happy just to be there," Berryhill said. "I just figured I would prove that I could still play."
A seven-RBI game during spring training removed any doubt.
"When you get a guy in a trade, you always hope he's going to help the team," said Red Sox outfielder Otis Nixon, who played with Berryhill in Atlanta. "Damon had some real big games for us. There was a two-month stretch last season where he hit everything."
Berryhill's numbers weren't eye-popping. He hit .228 in 1992 and .245 last season. Yet, he always seemed to be around in key situations.