Cruelest loss Sudden death of Reynolds, 27, devastates Blast

Ken Rosenthal

July 02, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

The chapel service was over. Blast goalkeeper Scott Manning couldn't recall what was said. He just stood crying in a hallway at St. Agnes Hospital, trying to grasp the cruelest possible loss.

"I won't," Manning said, "I can't."

On this warm summer evening, it was simply impossible to believe. Mike Reynolds dead. Of a massive stroke. At the age of 27. These things don't happen to soccer players. These things don't happen at all.

But Reynolds collapsed Saturday afternoon shortly before resuming a soccer demonstration with five teammates and inmates at the Jessup Pre-Release Clinic. He was packed in ice and rushed immediately to St. Agnes, his speech slow, his headache severe.

Doctors performed a CAT scan, a spinal tap and other diagnostic tests. Reynolds suffered paralysis on the left side. He showed slight improvement Sunday, then became comatose from swelling in his brain. He died at 3:30 p.m. yesterday.

"You go through incredible highs in this business and incredible lows," Blast coach Kenny Cooper said. "I can tell you this is the lowest. Your faith is tested daily. But today it is really challenged."

Reynolds, from the Toronto suburb of Mississauga, Ontario, spent four seasons as a defender with the Blast. He was the club's Rookie of the Year in 1986-87 and Unsung Hero in 1989-90. He had just obtained his green card and set an October wedding date with Claudia Franke, his German fiancee.

His only known health problem was hypertension, which caused him to miss the 1987-88 season. But he responded well to medication, and Blast team physician Larry Gallagher dismissed the condition as a factor in his death.

How could a professional athlete die so young? Reynolds, 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, was in peak condition. St. Agnes officials described his heart as "perfect." No one could imagine him suffering a stroke.

Yet Gallagher said it was "not uncommon to happen to someone this young. You see this in teen-agers, in any decade of life. It's one of the more common causes of death in young people."

Of course, that's a doctor talking. Gallagher knew the players couldn't relate, and he wasn't sure he could either. "Don't try to figure it out," he told Freddie Thompson, Reynolds' former roommate both at George Mason and with the Blast. "I can't."

Thompson, now with Tacoma, caught the first flight east after learning that Reynolds was in serious condition Sunday night. "I knew there was a possibility he might not hang on much longer," Thompson said. "But I didn't want to believe it."

No one did. Blast defender Angelo Panzetta was one of the players who participated with Reynolds in Saturday's clinic. "I didn't think it was that serious a situation at first," he said. "It seemed like he had just fainted because of the heat."

Reynolds and the others were competing against inmates, playing a hybrid of soccer and volleyball in which they used only their heads and feet. Cooper described it as "nothing real strenuous." Just community service. Strictly for fun.

The players took a 10-minute water break after the first game of a best-of-three. Cooper was present along with assistant general manager Drew Forrester. As the second game was about to begin, he told the players, "Let's go."

"I looked over at Mike and said, 'Mike, are you ready?'" Cooper recalled. "He gestured to me. I figured he was in some difficulty. I asked, 'Mike, are you OK?' Then he just keeled over on his side."

To think, Reynolds cut such a --ing figure on the cover of the Blast media guide last season, all boyish and clean-cut. Last night, Manning kept picturing his ear-to-ear grin. And recalling, "God, did he love his Toronto Maple Leafs."

Thompson said, "I was so used to him, I was guilty of not giving my roommates in Tacoma a chance. You're not going to find anyone who has anything bad to say about him. Even if you want to squeeze something out of someone, you won't find it."

Cooper, Forrester and Gallagher took turns fighting their emotions at an early evening news conference. Soon after the Blast players arrived at the hospital with their wives and girlfriends. Most knew only that the situation was grave.

In the overwhelming darkness, still there was light. Manning said he grabbed his two daughters in appreciation of life. Gallagher paid tribute to Reynolds as an organ donor. And Cooper vowed, "From this will come strength."

Worthy thoughts all, but it was not a night for hope or consolation. "I do believe everything happens for a reason," Freddie Thompson said. "Eventually we'll see what it is."

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