Mark Reynolds didn’t think much of it when his oldest son Jacob went down whiffing in a little-league game in the winter of 2015. Jacob, who was 5 at the time, was playing in a machine-pitch game near the Reynolds’ home in Charlotte, North Carolina. After the game ended, Jacob did something that caught his dad a little off guard: He apologized for striking out.
“I was like, ‘Dude, you don’t need to be doing that,’” Reynolds recalled. “‘It’s a game. You’re supposed to go out there and have fun.’”
Reynolds said that lesson has played a part in his career resurgence since coming to Colorado. The Rockies’ 33-year-old first baseman is off to one of the best starts to a season of his career. He’s hitting .333 with seven home runs and 20 RBI through 22 games.
Reynolds, who at one time was one of the game’s most notorious boom-or-bust players, has drastically cut down his strikeouts and remade himself into more of a line-drive hitter, which he attributes to, more than anything, a different mental approach. As odd as it sounds, Reynolds believes he’s become a more complete hitter by caring a little bit less.
“I told my kid, ‘You don’t have to worry about pleasing me or pleasing anybody. Just go out and have fun and enjoy yourself,’” Reynolds said. “And that kind of translated over to me playing. I had a great year last year, and I’m off to a good start this year. A lot of it is perspective. Baseball is obviously important. It’s our livelihood. But there are a lot more important things going on than going 0-for-4.”
Reynolds led the MLB in strikeouts for three straight seasons from 2008-10.
His strikeout totals in those years — 204, 223, 211 — looked like a good amateur’s bowling scores. Even though he was also among the MLB’s home run leaders in that time, Reynolds, who was with the Arizona Diamondbacks then, said that striking out that much ate him up inside. Some days, he’d come back to the park and try to club the ball 500 feet. Others, he’d worry about just getting it in play.
That’s no longer the case. Reynolds doesn’t run so hot or so cold anymore. He struck out in 25.4 percent of his plate appearances in 2016, and that rate’s dipped all the way to 20.7 percent this year. That’s a dramatic difference from when he was striking out 35.4 percent of the time in 2010.
“The thing I love about what he’s doing from the cage, to batting practice, to the game is his effort is so consistent,” Rockies hitting coach Duane Espy said. “It’s so within what he needs to do to be good. He doesn’t get away from it very much. There are not those big swings, there are not those, ‘I hope I make contact swings.’ He’s just taking good, effective swings.”
Reynolds is tied for third in the big leagues in home runs and tied for sixth in RBI with a strikeout rate that resembles Mike Trout’s — not bad numbers for a guy who was supposed to be a backup. Reynolds had an offer to play this season in Korea for $3 million, but he turned it down to sign a minor-league deal with Colorado. Reynolds earned a roster spot in spring training.
The plan was for him to back up the Rockies’ premiere free agent acquisition Ian Desmond at first base.
That changed when Desmond took a pitch off his left and fractured it in March. That forced Reynolds into the starting role.
“I didn’t want to have to move my family,” Reynolds explained as his motivation for coming back. “I have three young boys (ages 7, 5 and 7 months). Being in a totally different country halfway across the world was not ideal for my situation right now. I was comfortable here. I like this team. This team was on its way up, so it was really an easy decision.”
That perspective Reynolds gained from being a little bit older and from having a family made his decision to take less money and remain in Colorado an easy one. It’s also helped him become a different player than he used to be.
“When I was younger in my career, I dwelled on every single at-bat. It didn’t work out too well for me,” he said. “Now it’s more about having fun and not concentrating solely on what happened that night.”
The mistakes don’t weigh as heavily on Reynolds as they once did. After all, baseball is just a game.
All statistics are updated as of Thursday morning. Subscribe to Denverite’s weekly sports newsletter here.