I moved to Chicago in July 2010, a New York kid who grew up with the dynasty Yankees and loved every minute. Though few would label the Bronx Bombers anywhere near the word underdog, I remember when the team won its first title in 18 years. The Yankees did so in 1996, rebounding from a 3-1 World Series deficit to the Atlanta Braves with help from my idol Andy Pettitte and the soon-to-be crystalized “Core Four.” My love for the black horses of the world carried me to and through my college years in Baltimore, as did my soon-to-be best friend, a locally raised Orioles lifer. I carried my newfound love for the orange and black across the Illinois border.
Months after my arrival in the Midwest, the O’s welcomed a few new faces, including Arizona Diamondbacks slugger Mark Reynolds. I celebrated the move, remembering more than a few glimpses of the Sheriff swatting monster home runs and excited for someone who could put up numbers that Camden Yards hadn’t seen in over a decade. My buddy, frustrated with a recent string of rougher seasons, feared a bust for someone switching leagues and prone to striking out. We placed a friendly bet, with me boldly predicting at least 35 dingers. He said he’d buy me a jersey for 30, doubting our new third baseman could reach the plateau.
My first time seeing Reynolds in person was during a visit to Yankee Stadium, and he crushed the first pitch he saw that day for his 22nd home run of the season. I was on the phone with my friend, who’d answered my call just moments before, and he got an earful of happy yelling for his troubles. The big hits kept coming, and a late-season trip for me back to Baltimore included a Reynolds jersey and the opportunity to meet the man himself. He graciously signed my new prize, quipping with a smile, “This must’ve been special order. You don’t see many of these around here.”
Already a huge Reynolds fan going into 2012, I was delighted to watch him lift the O’s both on and off the field to a victory in the first Wild Card Game and a valiant effort through the ALDS. He contributed sparkplug energy, diving onto tarps and through the mud to help his team and continuing to live up to his Sheriff’s title. His self-deprecating humor, sharpness, and tenacity made him an easy hero for me.
Later, I rooted for him through an amazing start to a year in Cleveland, and I cheered for him loudly when he recorded the final out of my beloved Pettitte’s career as a Yankee at first base. His 2014 season in Milwaukee drew me frequently up 94 West, including a magical afternoon walk-off single with two strikes and two outs in a tie game that had me stuck with laryngitis for a week.
By 2015, a trend had emerged. Reynolds had to fight for his spots, whether earning his way to a roster with a spring training invitation, getting into games off the bench, or as part of a platoon. Mark’s grit always shone through, and his resilience and adaptability extended his career to the point where he played significant parts of three seasons for the Rockies, including a surprising 30-homer campaign in 2017. And while many players dream of 10 RBIs being a good month, Reynolds did it in one incredible 2018 game.
Reynolds is a master of reinvention. He is a role model whose plaque will proudly hang in my own little Hall of Fame. Perhaps some will overlook him, citing the pile of strikeouts or lower batting averages. But numbers miss spirit and chemistry, clutch performances and kindness to nerdy fans like me. They don’t account for the benefits he brought to each clubhouse. His announced retirement marks the end of an era for me. I hope he’ll be remembered well – certainly for his phenomenal talents as a ballplayer – but also as a rare gem. Reynolds is a refreshingly authentic individual, a nice guy in a jock culture often filled with strong opinions and stronger egos. He exemplifies perseverance and faith, two things we need more than ever during these dark times. Cheers to a great career, Sheriff.
Dan Sterdt was born and raised in Poughkeepsie New York. He went to Goucher College and received his Master’s at Adler University in Chicago. He’s a clinical therapist and lifelong lover of baseball, living in Naperville, Illinois with “my beautiful wife of eight months and our little dog.”
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.
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