Louisiana Hall of Fame induction ceremonies set for Saturday
When Shane Reynolds headed to Venezuela in 1991, he was determined to get his baseball career in gear.
Back then, the Bastrop native was a minor leaguer in the Houston Astros farm system. His Double-A manager Rick Sweet was going to Venezuela for winter ball and the organization invited Reynolds to play there.
“I’d had a good second half of the season in Double-A,” Reynolds said. “They usually only take guys with Triple-A experience or less than a year of big league experience over there. But they wanted me to play and I went.”
Good fortune brought Reynolds together with Brent Strom, a pitching guru who had a knack for helping hurlers reach their potential. Then a coach at Triple-A Tucson, Strom didn’t force pitchers into cookie-cutter concepts, but excelled at identifying and sharpening their strengths.
So after watching Reynolds throw a few games, Strom asked him one day, “Do you want to pitch 10 years in the minors — or one year in the big leagues?”
Reynolds didn’t have to dwell on the answer. “I said, ‘One year in the big leagues.’”
That was it, Reynolds said. “He completely changed me. My mechanics were like a power pitcher, but I only threw about 90. You’re not really a power pitcher throwing 90 miles per hour. I had a so-so-curveball and not a really good changeup.”
On faraway mounds in Venezuela, Reynolds followed a mentor toward his destiny. Strom helped Reynolds develop a more upright delivery and showed him how to add movement to his fastball. Reynolds gained better control of his curve and added a split-finger fastball to his arsenal. Really learning his craft, along with playing in front of the big, rowdy Venezuelan crowds proved to be a game-changer for Reynolds.
“I think that made my career and helped me get to the big leagues and stay there,” Reynolds said. “Brent Strom, yeah, I owe pretty much everything to him.”
Reynolds eventually became one of the top pitchers in the National League for the Astros. He was Houston’s Opening Day starter for five straight seasons, helped the team win four division titles and made the 2000 NL All-Star team.
Reynolds won 103 games for the Astros over 11 seasons, including 20 complete games and seven shutouts. Houston inducted him into its Astros Walk of Fame in 2012.
“He was my favorite pitcher I ever worked with,” said Strom, who also counts 1988 Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser as a former pupil. “I’ve never had a pitcher who took the information that I gave, and not really knowing him well then as I do now, I never had a pitcher take the information and work as hard.”
Following all his accomplishments in baseball, Reynolds enters the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014 induction class.
He will be enshrined on Saturday night, June 21 to cap the June 19-21 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Induction Celebration.
“That’s very special, especially in your home state,” Reynolds said. “I’ve always said, ‘Hey, I’m from Monroe and Bastrop, Louisiana.’ I spent most of my adult life married in Texas, but when I got the call about the Louisiana Hall of Fame— wow — it was a very, very special honor.”
Growing up in Bastrop and later playing prep sports at Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, Reynolds was a well-rounded athlete. But reflecting on those days, Reynolds calls himself a late bloomer who just kept plugging along.
“My parents, especially my dad, instilled a work ethic,” said Reynolds, the son of Richard and Glenda Reynolds. “He worked hard in his job his whole life. He was my Little League coach from eight years old until 18. He was very instrumental in my preparation in how I worked.”
It wasn’t until Reynolds’ senior year that people outside his circle really started to pay attention. He was the ace of Micah Harper’s pitching staff and set a single-season OCS record at the time with 11 home runs over a 22-game schedule.
“I didn’t really think about playing in college until my senior year,” said Reynolds, who was originally interested in going to Arkansas.
Still, there were doubters. Harper said Arkansas sent a scout to watch him pitch but the Razorbacks elected to pass.
“What they didn’t understand about Shane that I got to experience is, he had a poise, a determination and a maturity about him that you don’t see in a high school kid,” Harper said. “Nothing bothered him and nothing rattled him. Success didn’t go to his head and when things didn’t go well, it didn’t get him down.”
Reynolds earned a chance to play college baseball at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., and spent two years there before transferring to the University of Texas. Following a rocky junior year where he clashed with head coach Cliff Gustafson and was left off the College World Series roster, Reynolds was picked by Houston in the third round of the 1989 draft.
“We didn’t get along that well, but I was able to get seen and get drafted,” Reynolds said.
Strom believes Reynolds’ disappointing stint at Texas help motivate him in pro ball.
“I think there’s some history here with him being discarded by UT,” Strom said. “The fact that he was such a great young man and hard worker, it shocked me. Once I showed him some stuff and we worked on it a little bit, I didn’t have to keep prodding this guy. He took it and ran with it himself.”
After promotions in 1992 and 1993 that saw him pitch in 13 games, Reynolds arrived for good in 1994. He joined a rebuilding organization but was able to grow up in a great Astros clubhouse led by Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell, among others.
“To be there with Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Ken Caminiti, Luis Gonzalez, they played the game the right way,” Reynolds said. “Good people and they taught young guys how to act.”
Reynolds had a knack for finding and listening to people who could help him improve. He was inseparable from Astros strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman and became fanatical about his workouts.
“There have been very few people who put in the work like Shane, a handful of them” Coleman said. “There’s Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Shane that worked that hard.”
Reynolds had a motto that kept him churning — the harder you work, the luckier you get. At one time his regimen between starts included distance running outside, 1,000 sit-ups per day, sprints, weight training and throwing.
“I was so much of a perfectionist when I played that every single day had to go the same way as far as the running, the weights, the sit-ups, the preparation and the throwing so I would be 100 percent prepared on the day,” he said. “I wasn’t a flamethrower, so I had to be perfection on the corners. I had to have the sinker perfect in this spot. Stay ahead in counts. Be able to throw all my off-speed pitches over the plate for strikes behind in the count.”
Teammates like Biggio appreciated Reynolds’ efforts.
“He definitely puts in the time and that helps what he does,” Biggio once said. “You don’t have to ask any questions that the guy’s not putting in the time or effort. He’s a guy you don’t have to worry about from that standpoint.”
Coleman chuckled when asked for examples of Reynolds’ fascination with fitness.
“He was almost obsessive compulsive about working out,” Coleman said. “If we did 10 rotations with a med ball to the right and only nine to the left, he’d let me know about it. We’d have to do it again.”
During his first offseason in Houston, Reynolds rented a place about five miles from the Astrodome. “So Shane would ride his bicycle to the Astrodome,” Coleman said. “And then while he was waiting on the clubhouse guy to come open the doors for him, he’d ride around the concourse, which was about two miles. He’d just keep riding and riding and then come work out. After that, he’d ride his bike home another five miles.”
In spring training, Coleman said his early riser was at the park hours before team activities began.
“If we had 10 o’clock workouts, Shane would show up around 7,” Coleman said. “We’d go out and run together and then he’d come in and lift. He’d done more work than anyone else before practice ever started.”
Wanting to improve his diet and get enough rest, Reynolds promised Coleman that he’d be in bed by midnight during the season, barring extra innings. He also coaxed Coleman into regular meals together so he could eat the right things.
“He said, ‘If you will go to breakfast and lunch with me and help me figure out what to eat, then I’ll pay for everything,’” Coleman said. “It wasn’t just that he wanted to improve, but he wanted to know what to do and why to do and when to do it.”
Reynolds noted it was easy to concentrate on his career because his wife Pam was so supportive. High school sweethearts, they were together through the college years, five minor league stops and the majors.
“My wife is a strong individual,” he said. “I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am now without her. It’s hard in the minors and when you first come up in the bigs. A lot of it is mental. She had my back at all times. She was a positive influence and when I had bad days, she’d say ‘remember what you’re trying to do here.’”
Reynolds enjoyed a solid rapport with all his managers but enjoyed his best seasons after grooming from Larry Dierker.
“Dierker, he told us, ‘Don’t be looking over your shoulder in the fifth inning to see who is warming up in a close game. You have to be out there in any situation and you have to learn how to get yourself out of jams,” Reynolds said. “He said, ‘If I take you out every time in the fifth or sixth inning, how will you ever learn?’”
Reynolds enjoyed plenty of great moments on the mound, including a pitching duel at Wrigley Field against Kerry Wood and the Cubs that produced 30 strikeouts (20 by Wood and 10 by Reynolds).
A more personal memory comes from 1994, when Reynolds wasn’t a regular starter yet. Stepping in for an injured Pete Harnisch against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Reynolds fired seven strong innings.
“I gave up two hits and one run and got the loss,” he said. “But it was that game that sticks out because I was so young and did well. I think that helped me and then the Astros realized, ‘this guy could be a starter.’”
With offensive numbers soaring in the 1990s, Reynolds was fortunate to pitch eight seasons in the Astrodome.
“The Astrodome was probably the best place ever to pitch,” he said. “The ball didn’t carry and it was big. That helped a young pitcher with confidence. You make a mistake, you get a long fly ball out instead of a home run.”
While Reynolds recalls journeyman Bip Roberts seemingly having his number, he said he held his own against a more notable rising National League slugger.
“I don’t believe I ever gave up a home run to Barry Bonds,” Reynolds said. “Now he got his hits, but he was also my first big league out. It seems like I was able to make pitches where he got his hits, but not the big one.”
Familiar opponents like Atlanta Brave icons Chipper Jones and Greg Maddox learned to respect the rangy right-hander.
“He’s got good stuff,” Jones said in a 1996 interview. “He puts together his numbers pretty quietly because he’s played on a .500 team up until now. But he’s one of the most feared pitchers in this league.”
Across the Astrodome clubhouse that same day in 1996, the future Baseball Hall of Fame pitcher Maddux said: “When his control is good, you can’t pitch any better. You’ve got to do two things to pitch. You’ve got to locate your fastball and change speeds. He’s got a very good fastball and he’s great at changing his speeds. When he can locate his fastball, he’s almost unhittable.”
Reynolds wrapped his career pitching for the Braves in 2003 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004 before retiring with a career record of 114-96. In the end, injuries took their toll.
“I may have shortened my career because I worked myself so hard to be prepared, but I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “Working so hard, my pitching days were the easiest days.
“But the wear and tear,” he said. “Five knee surgeries, shoulder surgery, back surgery. Yeah, that stuff will slow you down big time.”
Said Strom: “I think a lot of his knee problems may have come from all that running on the Astrodome steps and the hard concrete. He almost worked himself to death. He can never be accused of not working hard enough.”
Reynolds recently moved from the Houston area to Monroe so his son Ryan could attend Ouachita Christian. Reynolds serves as a volunteer assistant with the OCS baseball team, where his son is a standout sophomore.
“I’ve really enjoyed coaching with him,” Harper said. “He has come into our high school program and been a servant coach. Dig, rake, cut the grass, he serves. He knows what it takes to motivate these kids.”
In a year brimming with recognition for the ex-big leaguer, this spring OCS even retired his jersey number 37.
“It’s really an honor,” Reynolds said of his recent recognition. “Faulkner University was the first one to retire my number. To be able to come back home where you went to high school and for them to honor you that way, it’s awesome. To have your number on the field where you played is very special. I’ll cherish that forever.”