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Toe’s tale sours

Phenom Toe Nash has five arrests in the past year. The Rays feel they can turn him around, assuming he can avoid prison.

By MARC TOPKIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 6, 2001


photo
[Times photo: Michael Rondou]
Toe Nash's fairly tale story didn't include charges of marijuana possession, battery and felony robbery.
Beyond the pasture
(Jan. 28, 2001)
ST. PETERSBURG -- The Toe Nash story apparently is too good to be true. At least, the way it was told the first time around.

Nash is the 18-year-old super-prospect the Devil Rays uncovered in the sugar cane fields of Louisiana, the straight-to-Hollywood details having been chronicled by ESPN's Peter Gammons, USA Today and the St. Petersburg Times as book and movie offers circulate.

But there is more to the story.

And this would be the part that requires parental guidance.

Nash has been arrested five times during the past year on charges ranging from misdemeanor drug possession to battery to a felony count of robbery that could land him in jail and derail his promising career before it starts.

"He's got some problems, obviously," Ascension Parish (La.) Sheriff's chief deputy Tony Bacala said Monday. "It seems as though a lot of it revolves around two things: drugs and the family/friends/girlfriend circle."

News of Nash's past, reported Sunday in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, caught the Rays somewhat off-guard. Jennings said that scout Benny Latino and the rest of the department erred in not better researching Nash's past and that the Rays knew only that Nash had some problems, "but not to the amount or to the extent."

Still, Jennings said the team plans to stick with its prized prospect and help him work through his problems.

"Our scouting department fell down because we should have dug deeper and found out more information," Jennings said. "That said, I still would have signed this player on his ability. And now that we have him in our system we will stand by this kid and provide him the guidance and direction to help him get his life straightened out, as we do all of our players."

Nash's troubles with the Louisiana law officially began shortly after he turned 18 on Feb. 16 -- juvenile records are not made public -- and are as recent as last week. He has not been convicted of any crimes, officials said.

According to police, Nash, whose real first name is Gregory, was arrested March 17, 2000, and charged with possession of marijuana and driving without a license. Two weeks later, a domestic dispute led to his arrest on five misdemeanor charges, including simple battery, theft and damage to property, police said. Nash pleaded not guilty and the case is pending, according to the district attorney's office.

He was arrested again April 19 after a fight at a party and faces misdemeanor charges of marijuana possession and battery and a felony count of robbery, police said. According to the Times-Picayune, police records say Nash and a friend beat a man and, while the victim was choking on his blood, stole money from his wallet.

The felony robbery charge carries a jail term of up to seven years. Though it is unlikely Nash, a first-time offender, would get anywhere near the maximum sentence, any incarceration could end his career.

"We're aware of the judicial process and there's a wait-and-see approach until those things are determined," Jennings said. "With the decisions he made and the choices he made, there could be consequences."

Nash pleaded not guilty, with trial set for April 24. Ascension Parish assistant district attorney Ben Johnson will decide in the next day or two whether to proceed, and his decision, it turns out, is being eagerly awaited.

"A lot of people are calling not only myself but the district attorney, asking for help in this case and using some political leverage, and now it's become high profile," Johnson said.

Nash was stopped by police in November and arrested for marijuana possession and on a bench warrant stemming from a missed court date in a prior case, police said. Last Tuesday, he was charged with simple battery in an apparent domestic dispute with his 41-year-old girlfriend, who reportedly also was charged in the incident in their mobile home.

Jennings said the Rays feel strongly that Nash, whose mother left the family when he was 12, can stay out of trouble in the proper structured environment.

"Being around this kid, he's a good kid," Jennings said. "He had no guidance and no direction. I don't know if he's easily led or he ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time or a combination. I really think baseball is his out."

Nash was expelled from public school, attended a military-style alternative school and was expelled there after showing up at a teacher's house with a knife and demanding to use her car, according to Chester Carter, a drill sergeant at Ascension Parish Alternative School.

Still, Carter said, there was a "likable" side to Nash, who was "15, but streetwise was 25."

"He was a delinquent, but he wasn't malicious," Carter said. "He wasn't mean. A lot of them are real mean. ... He had no ambition. Toe wanted to be a follower. ... He really didn't know which way to go."

Agent Larry Reynolds, who plans to hire tutors, said Nash's troubles were the product of "somebody not having anything to look forward to."

"I think he's a tremendous person," Reynolds said. "He just had a bad start. Like I always say, "It ain't how you start, it's how you finish.' That's the way I look at it. I'm comfortable with the situation."

Nash, with a judge's approval, is in California this week to attend a hitting school run by Reynolds' brother, former major-leaguer and current ESPN analyst Harold Reynolds. Similar approval will be required for Nash to report to minor-league spring training in March if the charges are pending, Nash's attorney, Van Heard, said.

The Rays are hoping he will be there.

"We can't sit here and represent the organization and (managing general partner) Vince Naimoli and Major League Baseball and condone anything that's against the law," Jennings said. "But we have to stand behind and be supportive of the players we have signed and brought into the organization in any way possible."

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