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Amir Garrett arrives for Big League Weekend with fists down

Amir Garrett was knocking rust from his slider during a casual workout at Las Vegas Ballpark recently when he was asked about fellow two-sport star Kyler Murray.

Murray was the first player selected in the 2019 NFL draft and became the Arizona Cardinals’ starting quarterback. He also was selected in the first round, ninth overall, by baseball’s Oakland Athletics.

“I think I started that,” said Garrett, a relief pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, who will play the Chicago Cubs at 1:05 p.m. Saturday and Sunday during the second installment of Big League Weekend.

Perhaps he had forgotten about that Jackson kid who played football for the Raiders and baseball for the Royals.

But suffice it to say, the strapping Garrett is known for starting stuff.

Last season, he started something against Pittsburgh. Garrett challenged the entire Pirates’ roster, including bullpen coaches, to a fistfight for which he was suspended eight games.

Before he talked big and threw hard, the 6-foot-6 inch Garrett played basketball at Sierra Vista High, Findlay Prep and at St. John’s for Steve Lavin. One recruiting service rated him the 21st-best small forward coming out of high school. But after throwing fastballs that sizzled in front of major league scouts, the Reds drafted him in the 22nd round.

He received a $1 million signing bonus and permission to continue his basketball career at St. John’s, where he played two seasons before switching to baseball.

Diamond dandy

“It was kind of tough for me to do the basketball and baseball thing,” said the California-born Garrett, who considers Las Vegas his hometown. “Instead of being one of the top guys, I turned into just an average guy in college basketball. And now in baseball, I’ve kind of become a star.”

Indeed, during the first half of 2019, Garrett’s slider was almost unhittable.

Going into the All-Star break, he struck out 54 in 37 innings with a 1.70 ERA in 42 appearances. But after trying to clean collective Pittsburgh clocks, he finished with a 3.21 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.

At 27 and having gotten a late start on his baseball career, he’s still learning to pitch. But he does not regret having been a more well-rounded athlete during his formative years.

“I’ve been seeing a trend where parents are having their kids play one sport, which I don’t agree with,” Garrett said. “You don’t want to be one-dimensional. That takes away your athleticism.

“When I was playing basketball, it helped me on the baseball field. But now, just playing baseball, I’ve kind of lost that athletic ability I once had.”

Sparring partners

On July 30, he rediscovered his versatility during the top of the ninth inning at Great American Ballpark. It was the second time in fourth months that Garrett went after the Pirates as if they were wearing Georgetown colors.

When he dropped his glove and made a beeline for the Pittsburgh dugout, he became a three-sport star: baseball, basketball, boxing. He unfurled left hooks that would have done Joe Frazier proud.

But during an animated chat with local reporters, Garrett came off more teddy bear than grizzly bear.

“There’s a side of me that people don’t know — only the close few that went to high school with me,” he said about taking on the Pirates in a 1-against-25 battle royal before Yasiel Puig joined him as a tag team partner.

“The answer is it happened. Hopefully it doesn’t have to happen again. Sometimes you have to handle your business, and that was it.”

Heading into Big League Weekend, he said his focus is not so much on the left hook but on improving his fastball to where it can complement his slider.

“I want to have that satisfaction of blowing it by somebody and getting the third strike swing and miss or something like that,” he told reporters in Arizona. “I have to put guys away with my slider, which is fine. But I want that satisfaction of blowing a 97 mph heater by somebody, and they swing, and they have no shot. That’s what I want.”

And so it would appear that Amir Garrett is ready to rumble, even if it’s only against the Cubs in an exhibition game in his adopted hometown.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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