Playing every day is Reynolds' calling card Camden Yards big switch from Seattle's Kingdome

December 15, 1992|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,Staff Writer

It's all starting to sink in now. Harold Reynolds has been delivered from baseball purgatory. Finally, nearly 10 years into an impressive major-league career, he is about to find out what it's like to play in games that really matter in front of fans who really care.

No parting shots intended, but Camden Yards is a long way from the Kingdome, and we're not just talking about the 2,400 miles that separate Baltimore and Seattle. When Reynolds arrived in town yesterday to sign his new contract and meet the local media, he already was looking forward to a dramatic change in the competitive environment.

"You've got to understand, I've been in Seattle my whole career," he said. "I've been on a team that lost 100 games, and I've been on a team that was seven games out in August and there still were only 10,000 people in the stands. It's going to be fun to come out and play in front of a sellout crowd every night."

The Orioles like to use their new ballpark as a selling point, but Reynolds said that the biggest factor in his decision to sign with the club was the opportunity to play every day again. He averaged 158 games with the Seattle Mariners from 1987 to 1991 before the emergence of second-base prospect Bret Boone forced him out of the everyday lineup late last season.

Manager Johnny Oates already has indicated that he'll give Reynolds, 32, the chance to play 150 or more games in 1993, even if it means moving utility man Mark McLemore into the outfield to get him some playing time.

"I'm one of those guys who wants to play everyday . . . so it was tough to have to sit and watch last year," Reynolds said. "I made the adjustment. I tried to help Bret where I could. There was nothing personal about the situation."

It didn't help that Reynolds also was struggling through his worst offensive season since 1986 -- not coincidentally the last season in which he had played in fewer than 150 games and gotten fewer than 500 at-bats.

He batted just .247 and his 15 stolen bases were the fewest he has had in any full major-league season.

"It's one thing to think you have character, but when you get put in that situation, you really see what you're all about," Reynolds said. "It was a good time for me. It was a good trial."

It was late in the season when he began to ponder the possibility that he would not be back with the Mariners in 1993. Reynolds was one of the most popular and productive players in franchise history, but he could see that the club was ready to go in a new direction at second base. There was still hope until the Mariners declined to offer him salary arbitration Dec. 7. Four days later, he signed with the Orioles.

"The last six weeks of the season, when they tell you you're not going to play, you start making the adjustments," Reynolds said. "But just when I felt like I had settled on it, [new manager] Lou Piniella came in and they started making changes, and I started to think that it might not be such a bad place to be. I even ran into Lou at a basketball game, and he told me he'd like to see me come back. Then the Mariners didn't offer arbitration, and I knew I wasn't going to be back."

Agent Jim Krivacs didn't waste time closing a deal with the Orioles. Reynolds accepted one year at $1.65 million plus awards incentives, even though some comparable players got much bigger money during last week's free-agent free-for-all.

There might have been more money somewhere else, but the Orioles offered a situation no one else could guarantee -- the chance to play second base every day for a legitimate divisional contender. So he passed up a chance to jump leagues and play for the Cincinnati Reds or New York Mets.

"The thing the Reds were talking about, they weren't sure how they would get me into the lineup," Reynolds said. "I just said, 'Hey, this [the Orioles] is the best situation for me. I don't care about the money. I'll show you. I just want a chance to play.' I think that impressed them."

It did, of course. The Orioles were similarly impressed last year when Rick Sutcliffe offered to take a slim, one-year deal to re-establish himself as a front-line starting pitcher. Sutcliffe won 16 games and was re-signed for 1993. Reynolds said he also hopes to make this more than a one-year affair.

He said he realizes that he will be coming into an uncomfortable situation. The club released popular Bill Ripken to make room for him at second base, which couldn't have made shortstop Cal Ripken very happy and probably won't sit well with many fans who have grown up with the home-grown Ripken connection.

"I'm just hoping everyone gives me a chance," Reynolds said. "I know it will take some time [with Cal]. I have four older brothers, and I know it would be hard to adjust to having one of my brothers replaced. I don't expect it to be easy, but I know he's going to come out and play like he always has. I think he'll treat me the way he has always treated me."

Reynolds doesn't figure to have much trouble endearing himself to the local populace. He had the same kind of community presence in Seattle that Cal Ripken has in Baltimore, and he already has made a significant overture by pledging $25,000 to buy Orioles tickets for underprivileged children.

"I've always felt one of the beauties of being a professional athlete is that God gives us a special opportunity to reach people," he said. "I've always enjoyed the opportunity to help lighten a dark situation. I'm planning on getting involved and trying to help the community."

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