Mike Reynolds, who rebounded from severe hypertension three years ago to develop into a standout defender for the Baltimore Blast, died yesterday after suffering a massive stroke at a soccer clinic during the weekend.
Reynolds, who was 27, collapsed in Saturday's 99-degree temperatures while taking a break during an afternoon clinic for inmates at the Jessup Pre-Release Center. His condition worsened Sunday, as he became comatose from swelling of the brain. He was pronounced dead at St. Agnes Hospital at 3:30 p.m.
"To the best of my knowledge, it's not related to the hypertension," Dr. Larry Gallagher, a Blast team physician and a physician at St. Agnes Hospital in Catonsville, said during a news conference last night. "He was well-medicated, and he had good blood pressure. He really was in good health until this event happened."
The death of Reynolds, who was the team's Comeback Player of the Year after the hypertension forced him to miss the 1988-89 season, left members of the team and the Blast organization shocked. Coach Kenny Cooper cried as he described the former All-American from George Mason University.
"I've had incredible highs in this business and incredible lows, but this is the lowest," Cooper said. "Mike was a coach's dream, a really superb human being. This is really difficult for people to take."
Cooper was at the clinic Saturday, one of the many functions Blast players attend during the off-season. The team was playing a group of inmates in a game of soccer-volleyball -- during which the Blast players used only their heads and feet -- when Reynolds collapsed at 12:58 p.m. during a break after the first game.
"We went to get a drink, and we were joking around with a couple of the inmates," said forward Rusty Troy. "We were switching sides, and I turned around and said, 'Mike, let's go.' Nothing was unusual. Then he tried to get up, staggered back about 10 paces and stumbled to the ground."
Reynolds was packed in ice in an attempt to cool him down. Drew Forrester, the team's director of public relations, spoke to him while an ambulance was called.
"I joked with him about the Toronto Maple Leafs, his favorite hockey team," Forrester said. "He smiled. He was talking to us, but he was really dazed and incoherent."
Reynolds was paralyzed on the left side of his body, a condition that Dr. Gallagher said indicated damage to the right side of his brain. He was rushed by ambulance to St. Agnes Hospital, where an initial CT scan did not show damage. Saturday night, he was moved to the intensive care unit, where he remained until his death.
"Every effort was made to reduce the brain swelling, but this was a progressive damage," Gallagher said. "It continued to damage his brain until [yesterday morning], when I saw him after six and I was sure he was brain dead."
Reynolds parents, Lincoln and Lynn Reynolds, arrived in Baltimore Sunday night as their son's condition continued to worsen. The elder Reynolds said in a statement released by the hospital: "He was a boy that gave 110 percent in everything he did. . . . He was such a model young man. We will remember Michael as a man who accomplished a lot in his 27 years."
The announcement of Reynolds' death was delayed until his fiancee, Claudia Franke, arrived. Franke, who was to marry Reynolds later this year, flew in from Germany and was notified of his death at 6:15 p.m. His body will be flown today to his hometown of Mississauga, Ontario, where the funeral will be held this week.
Reynolds' teammates and friends cried in the hospital halls as they made their way to a private memorial service in hospital's chapel. One of those in attendance was Freddie Thompson, Reynolds' best friend and a former teammate who now plays for the Tacoma Stars.
"It still hasn't hit me yet. It'll hit me in a while, when he no longer calls," said Thompson, who flew in after being notified on Sunday night. "His eyes were wide-open when I walked in the room, but they had already pronounced him. It was a little unreal with the respirator hooked up to him. His face was drooped to one side, just the way he was when he slept while we were roommates."
When he heard of his friend's collapse, Thompson thought immediately that it stemmed from the hypertension. After being sidelined for one season, Reynolds was put on medication that lowered his blood pressure.
"He was annoyed when he had to sit out the year, but he didn't complain," Thompson said. "I knew he was in excellent health."
On the day doctors told Reynolds that he couldn't play, he expressed a strong desire to play soccer again but also described his worst fear: "to have a stroke on the floor while playing."
"It's hard for me to give up playing," Reynolds added in that October 1988 interview. "I've had this condition since I was 16 and played with it. I'd like to try new medication and play."
He came back and won the team's Comeback Player of the Year award. A player whose accomplishments were quiet, but effective, Reynolds won the team's Unsung Hero Award the next season.
Reynolds was an All-America defender at George Mason and was the first pick by the Blast (second round) in the 1986 draft. He was team's Rookie of the Year his first season and established himself as one of the league's brightest young stars his second year, until his career was sidetracked in the 1988 preseason.
Before his death, Reynolds had agreed to be an organ donor and his heart, lungs, kidneys and other organs will be donated after officials locate a match in the donor file. "I loved Mike Reynolds -- my players are like a second family to me," Cooper said, wiping tears from his eyes. "My wife and I just lost part of our family."