Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Entering his tenth big league season, Mark Reynolds has had an interesting career. Initially a 16th round draft pick from the University of Virginia, he rose quickly to the big leagues and starred—and struck out—for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2007 through 2010. Stints with the Orioles, Indians, Yankees, Brewers, and Cardinals followed, and 237 home runs (and 1,519 strikeouts) later, the 32-year-old now finds himself with the Rockies.
Reynolds has at least a few more years of big league baseball left in his body, but even now he has the wisdom and perspective to look back at his career and give a candid assessment of what he's learned, how far he's come, and most importantly for the Rockies, what he can teach to younger players trying to make their own way.
For Reynolds, his look back—even his regrets—center around the two things for which he is best known: home runs, and strikeouts. Not surprisingly, that somewhat unique 'two true outcomes' type of notoriety made him a volatile and divisive player in the eyes of the media during his younger days. As Reynolds told Purple Row in the Rockies' clubhouse in Scottsdale, he probably let it impact his career too much, too.
"Looking back on it, I put so much worry and thought into what Baseball America had to say and what people were writing about," Reynolds said. "I read all that stuff, the ‘what impact is he gonna have,’ and ‘what age is he gonna get to the big leagues’ stuff, and I put so much weight into it. Especially when you are a prospect yourself, you want to see how you rank, and what people think of you."
To hear Reynolds tell it, ignoring the attention proved difficult coming up the minor leagues, as Baseball America, for one, is in every minor league clubhouse throughout the sport. The adjustment period from the minors to the big leagues as the Diamondbacks' golden boy didn't help things for then-23-year-old Reynolds, either—but it's given him the perspective he carries today.
"I got called up from Double-A and never played in Triple-A," Reynolds said. "I think I had like 200 at-bats in Double-A, and it’s like, you never know when you’re going to get called up."
Reynolds' memory serves him well; he had 248 Double-A at-bats when he was called up in 2007. To this day, he's still never played a single game at the Triple-A level.
"The people that write don’t know, but it’s their job to try to project and give people stuff to read, but as far as us reading it, it's not healthy," Reynolds said. "If you’re in this room at big league camp you’ve got the chance to impact the big league club at some point, and I don’t think it matters or not if you’re a young guy. You’ve just got to be ready, not worry about what people say, and just go about your business."
That strained relationship with the media seemed to weigh on Reynolds during our discussion. Not that he's antagonistic or unapproachable—far from it, in fact; he's a pleasure to speak with, refreshingly candid about the game, and easily my favorite conversation from early in spring training—but he's certainly been there, done that, and seen it all with some tough media attention during the leaner parts of his career.
"Early in my career I set the strikeout record and I got asked about it every single day," Reynolds admitted. "All these people wrote all this stuff about how ‘he has such a negative effect on the game,’ and I’m like wait, I hit 40-plus homers and drove in 100-plus runs. Yeah, I left some RBIs on the table, but everyone does that."
"So at that point," he added, "I just was like, I am who I am, I’m not going to answer any more questions about it and I’m going to move on and not read any of the crap you guys write any more because most of it’s negative. And then I saw my mindset go in a better direction."
Reynolds' comments weren't disrespectful, or even spiteful as he looked back at unwanted media attention. For the first baseman, the discussion centered more on his improved understanding of how to rely on teammates and coaches rather than look outward for validation through public approval.
"The guys in the clubhouse, the managers, the front office, those guys know what impact you can have on games," Reynolds surmised. "People on the outside don’t really understand the intricacies to having a winning team and how guys contribute in different ways. People on the outside can write what they can see, but they’re not in here with us all the time, they don’t know what we know."
"And not reading every little thing on Twitter or every little article about yourself, just going out there and doing what you do to help the team win," Reynolds said, adding a piece of advice aimed at a new generation of ballplayer. "That’s all you can worry about."
If it sounds to you like Reynolds is revealing the message he's been sharing with Trevor Story and other young Rockies early this spring, well, you'd be right.
"I’ve been riding Story a little bit, giving him a hard time just like I got a hard time back in the day," Reynolds admitted. "And he knows I’m on him because he’s a good player and he’s got a chance to impact this team, so you can’t let them breeze through camp and think this is easy when it’s not."
The ribbing is purposeful for Reynolds; read deeply, riding the prospects is more than just a way to help the team win, but also a means for the veteran can cement his legacy in the game long after he's gone.
"Getting on [Story] a little bit, and him learning about this business the way I’ve been doing it for a long time is valuable," Reynolds said. "I grew up watching Tony Clark, and Randy Johnson, and Orlando Hudson, watching how they prepare and how they get ready. Hopefully I can rub off on some of the young players in the same way."
That purposeful passing of the baton is exactly what Rockies manager Walt Weiss was hoping for out of Reynolds when the veteran joined the club on a one-year, $2.6 million deal over the winter.
"Mark is a pretty easy going guy, you can tell he’s been in the game for a long time, he’s got a great feel for things, and he's easy to get along with," Weiss told Purple Row. "You can always sense a level of wisdom and professionalism with those types of guys."
For Reynolds, that wisdom and professionalism doesn't necessarily come in one explicit form or another; half the process is feeling out each situation and leading young players on the fly, especially in a scenario like his this spring as he gets to know an entirely new organization.
"I don’t want to come in and try to change stuff that these guys have been doing forever," Reynolds said. "It’s more how I go about hitting in the morning, getting lifts in, taking care of my body, and how I work out on the field. It's that kind of leadership rather than saying, ‘guys, we can only listen to this kind of music and we’ve got to do this, this, and this.'"
"It’s kind of a fine balance," Reynolds added, "but I think being more of an example as an older person that’s new to a team is what it’s all about."
All that being said, there still is at least one aspect of the game and culture around baseball that stops Reynolds: how technology and media has changed the way players track themselves online. The veteran, who isn't over the hill by any means, nevertheless does reveal his old soul when balking at new age tech toys.
"I didn’t own a cell phone until I was in the minor leagues, and I didn’t have a smartphone where you can read every little thing," Reynolds mused, chuckling. "Just now, I got an update that Jason Day is playing golf, and where, and whatever. Everything is right there for you. I’m kind of glad I came along at the time I did, so I didn’t have the same access to that."
"I’m sure it’s tough," he added. "You can alert yourself to whenever your name is mentioned in an article, you can go read it right away on your phone, and that's tough. But a young player can't worry about it. Just control what you can control, and have fun doing it."