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A SALESMAN’S LAST PITCH

MIKEY REYNOLDS’ BASEBALL JOURNEY TAKES HIM TO SUSSEX COUNTY

Medical supply salesman and St. Louis resident Mikey Reynolds was sitting inside Busch Stadium on a mid-summer night at this time last year, watching his Cardinals play another National League foe. Over the loud speaker, he hears John Ulett, the Cardinals PA Announcer, read off the names of former teammates he once played with on the Springfield Cardinals, the AA-affiliate of the major league club, before the team marched out onto the field. His initial reaction was, “I’m better than these guys…it’s my time; I want to be there.”

This awakening influenced Reynolds to make a comeback to play the game he loved. It drove him to impressive lengths to make the dream he once held as a young kid, back into a reality.

His journey began in his hometown of Glendale, Arizona, where he played high school baseball at Mountain Ridge High School, a school that has produced multiple major league talents. He was recruited to St. Mary’s College of California, a small-private Division I school which finished towards the bottom of the West Coast Conference in 2010. Reynolds decided to go the junior college route so he could be drafted in his sophomore year, which meant he had to leave St. Mary’s after his freshman year.

He moved back to Arizona to Paradise Valley Community College, which was only a half hour from his home in Glendale. It was there that he began to show his incredible talent for baseball, and teams took notice. Reynolds posted an impressive .389 batting average, 29 stolen bases, and 30 runs batted in (RBIs). He would be drafted in the 30th Round of the 2011 MLB Amateur Entry Draft by the Baltimore Orioles, but he wasn’t thinking about professional baseball just yet. His junior college performance earned him a spot on one of the most storied programs in all of college baseball: Texas A&M.

Fresh off making it to the College World Series, he joined an Aggies team that was ranked #5 in all of NCAA Division I baseball coming out of pre-season in his Junior year. Reynolds said he came at just the right time, “It was right when the college was booming. We jumped to the SEC, we had Johnny Manziel, we had a good baseball program, and we had two first rounders.”

He left an indelible mark on the team’s success in his two years at A&M, hitting over .300 in both seasons including an incredible .342 in his Senior year despite regularly hitting against SEC pitching staffs. He appeared in almost every game for the Aggies, 58 in his Junior year, and 61 in his Senior year, the year he would play with another future Miner, Andrew Vinson. Each season, he led his team to the NCAA Super Regionals, but could never get his team over the hump back to Omaha, Nebraska, where the College World Series is played every year. What Reynolds said he’ll remember most from those years was the traditions that make Texas A&M known as “The 12th Man”: “The traditions there at Aggie Land were nothing like you’ve ever seen. I remember the traditions would scare me…I thought there were balls loose on the field, I thought people would run on the field, but it was just the fans in Section 203 chanting…It was a great college experience; everything I could’ve dreamed of.”

Each year his draft value increased as well. In 2012, he moved up 10 rounds and was drafted by the New York Yankees in the 20th Round, and in 2013, he jumped another 15 rounds and was drafted in the 5th round by the Atlanta Braves, where he began his journey through the minor leagues.

Fresh off his hot run with the Aggies, Reynolds made his way to Danville, Virginia, a town along the border of Virginia and North Carolina in the heart of baseball country, where he made his professional baseball debut with the Danville Braves. Through 44 games in the Rookie League, he posted a .309 average and earned himself a spot on the Single-A team the following spring. In 2014, Reynolds played just over an hour away from where his major league club played in Rome, Georgia, where he faced the first big setback of his career. He was diagnosed with elbow damage, underwent elbow surgery, and never played another game with the Braves organization again.

After he was released by the Braves in 2015, he made his way to York, Pennsylvania, where joined the Revolution in the Atlantic League. Despite finishing 30 games back in the division, Reynolds began to make a name for himself again, posting a solid .280 batting average with a .356 on-base percentage, numbers that caught the eyes of another professional baseball club, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The 2016 season began in sunny Palm Beach Florida with the Cardinals High A-affiliate, where three weeks into the season was promoted to the AA squad in Springfield, Missouri. He couldn’t find immediate success with Springfield, only garnering a .186 average with 17 total bases reached over 18 games. This prompted the Cardinals to send Reynolds back down to High A. He only stayed in Palm Beach for four days. On May 6, 2016, Mikey Reynolds retired from professional baseball, only a month and a half into the 2016 season.

“I was over it. I didn’t want to play anymore. I wanted to make some money and see what the real world was about.” He settled down in the suburbs of St. Louis, where he found a job as a medical equipment salesman. He became a fan of the local team, a team he had played for not too long ago. In the dog days of summer watching the big league Cardinals play, a year and a half later was when Reynolds decided to try and make his comeback.

“I wasn’t ready for the real world. I still wanted to play baseball.” This prompted Reynolds to quit his sales job, and call Doug Simunic of the Fargo-Moorhead RedHawks to see if he could be of assistance at second base. Simunic gave Reynolds the ok, and he flew to St. Paul, Minnesota for a series with the Saints, where he became the starting second baseman for the team. Reynolds never made it back to North Dakota with the team, as he was cut after just three games after going 0-14 with 4 errors over that weekend.

“I hadn’t trained in a year and a half, hadn’t thrown a baseball, hadn’t hit, but I mentally thought I was good enough.” With no job in either sales or baseball, he made his way home to his roots back in Arizona, where he had an extremely difficult road back to being the player he once was. He received his real estate license, worked with his father, worked in two different warehouses, and worked at a golf course to make a living for himself, all while he began to train for his comeback in the sport. He called all the players, coaches, and general managers he knew to see if any club would be willing to give him a second chance at his dream.

“Coaches were referring me to other coaches, and another coach then referred me to Bobby (Jones)…Bobby gave me a chance, he gave me an opportunity, and now I’m here.” The chance Miners manager Bobby Jones gave Reynolds has become a win-win situation, as Reynolds has become a vital piece to the Miners lineup, hitting .337 with 15 extra base-hits and 22 RBIs, along with Reynolds boosting his chances of being noticed by major league baseball clubs with his impressive season.

After a few months living in Sussex County, he says he’s enjoying life in Northern New Jersey: “It’s a bunch of trees and green, compared to Arizona where there’s no grass, it’s just desert. I think it’s beautiful. Driving around here, my eyes are always fascinated with anything around here…it beats 115 degrees at home!”

What Reynolds has come to love most about the Miners organization is his teammates, which he says the closeness of the team is unparalleled to any teams he’s played on before. “It’s nothing like I expected, because all the other teams I’ve been on, we haven’t been as close as this team is…we have a blast together!”

This was best seen on the 4th of July, when even the fans got to see some of this team comradery on display during the Fireworks Spectacular firsthand. “The 4th of July, we were all hanging out, and we didn’t want to leave the field. It’s kind of how it’s been the whole time. We’re always hanging out with each other, we all just get along…the coaches get along with us; it’s like we’re all just one team.”

One team activity that was a team favorite while traveling back from Ottawa was a karaoke session that bonded the team even closer together. “(David) Rollins initiated the rookies by singing karaoke, but we didn’t have a microphone so we had to sing really loud. We had a couple good entertainers…I sang a Macy Gray song, “I Try”, got the whole team going; that was a really fun one.”

At the end of the day though, it’s the hard work and dedication that matters to everyone on the Sussex County Miners squad. “Every day we do early work on the infield just to get better. We could easily take a day off and say we’re tired; we just go about our business every day.”

With both Miners manager Bobby Jones and starting pitcher David Rollins having MLB experience on their resumes, Reynolds says there’s one key thing he’s learned from both of them that he will take on his second journey to the major leagues: “They act like they’re on the same team and not better than us. Even though they’ve been in the big leagues…everybody’s the same level…we’re all just going to come out, have fun, and play our game.”

With both the Miners success this season at the top of the Can-Am League and the individual success of Reynolds, Major League scouts are bound to notice the talent of both him and others on the current Miners roster. Despite being cut from two major league clubs, overcoming an initial failed return in independent baseball, and the hardship of working five jobs while training to return to professional baseball, the individual work ethic and fortitude of Mikey Reynolds is the most impressive statistic on his resume, one that won’t show up in any box score.

Maybe in a few years, John Ulett will be reading out to the fans at Busch Stadium, “Now batting: the second baseman, number two, Mikey Reynolds!”, and it will be Reynolds who inspires one of the fans in attendance to chase after their own dreams of one day playing baseball in the major leagues, no matter if that fan is 5, or if he is 25.

Article by Nicholas Lehman
Photo by Black Raven Imagery