Thursday, July 27, 2006

Harold Reynolds' Mentor

An off day for the Yanks means a more free-form post from my computer keyboard to you in digital wonderland. A few things have been on my mind lately, so I'll briefly touch on one of them in a Canyon of Heroes Grab Bag posting....

I have been thinking about the recent firing of Harold Reynolds from his Baseball Tonight desk job. I saw Reynolds the other day as a guest panelist on the ESPN program "1st and 10" going head to head in a "debate" with the ultra-hyper-annoying Skip Bayless, whose only schtick is to blow his lid in uber-caffeinated rants against instant replay in women's handball and the overuse of chalk on MLS sidelines. You get the point. Reynolds looked embarassed to be on the program and sat stoically watching Bayless spew foam like a rabid monkey. I thought the guest appearance was ill-conceived and slightly humiliating for a guy with Reynolds cerebral credentials. Not that he always makes the best analysis in the world, but he's at least trying to be cool. He sports the slick suit and tie and is well made-up. He's not a dime a dozen, coffee-slurping, nacho-chomping newspaper columnist trying to launch a tv career by out-outrageousing the next guy.

The next thing I know, Reynolds is out at ESPN for a sexual harassment claim. It was an iffy situation by all acounts, and the Outback Steakhouse is the only one to likely benefit from the whole smear campaign. I don't know the details of the incident more than any of the rest of you, but it sounds a bit suspiscious to me. The thing is, there is also word that Reynolds has a history of documented cases that exacerbates this incident.

Thinking about Harold Reynolds took me back to a great experience that I had regrettably forgotten for a number of years. (Nothing to do with harassment!) I was a young cameraman in 1996, travelling home from some promotional work in Phoenix during the days leading up to Super Bowl XXX. On the plane back to New York I found myself seated next to a married couple in their Autumn years. Quickly, they decided to strike up a conversation with me and I was taken by their easy charm. On airplanes it's not always desirable to engage in conversation with your neighbors, as many people don't read the clues to end the dialogue very well. There was none of that awkwardness in this cheerful discussion.

After exchanging pleasantries, the couple informed me that they were returning to Rhode Island to visit their family. They had made the move to the desert for the winter months, as many their age have chosen to do, and only returned to the East Coast to see their loved ones from time to time. I spent the early part of my childhood in Rhode Island, as I've discussed at COH in the past, and we made an instant bond. Whatever the chemistry stemmed from, I don't exactly know, but there was a real human affection between the three of us, and the man spoke to me like a grandson-in-law, if I might use that to illustrate my point. He spoke of his career in baseball scouting, and his continued interest in the process of evaluating and advising young prospects in his advancing years.

He told me that he had been a good friend to Harold Reynolds when he was a young prospect and that his family had grown quite close to him. It was as though Reynolds was his son. The two men obviously had a bond that comes about so rarely between people that are not blood relatives. He talked of the days he took the Mariners second baseman under his wing and guided him through the tough times a young player faces as he struggles to prove himself and navigate the murky waters off the field. He spoke with a proud glow.

The conversation turned to his recent work. He was still a consultant for a number of teams in the Arizona Fall League circuit, and he'd seen a lot of guys come through. He told me that he'd recently spent a great deal of time with a Yankees prospect that he thought was the next great player in the Bombers' long tradition. He called him, "Can't miss", and he explained that he meant on and off the field. He said that this player had Hall of Famer written all over him and would rival Mickey Mantle in terms of popularity in New York. The kid was the second player in this man's career to strike him with such an impression. That player was Derek Jeter.

It took a kind of random news item, and a downer at that, to help me recall this wonderful slice of life. I don't remember the man's name, but I'll never forget the 5 and a half hours I spent with him and his wife on the plane. In Reynolds' biographical information we read that he was scouted by Cincinnati Reds' scout Larry D'Amato. I can't help but wonder if it was he that I sat next to on the plane. I wonder what's going through his mind as this news is being bandied about in the press. I hope his family will be a part of whatever healing and reconciliation Reynolds must undergo to get his career back on track.

(Matsuzaka Watch has been updated with the latest pitching brilliance by the future Yankee ace. His WHIP over 117.1 IP is 0.92! Check it out today!)