Friday, January 1, 2010

Ryne Reynoso lives the dream of pro baseball

Express 2009 Athlete of the Year rises through the Atlanta Braves farm system

Express Staff Writer

Atlanta Braves organization publicity photo Ryne Reynoso pitching for the Mississippi Braves last summer. The 2003 Wood River High School graduate autographed and distributed this photo to the 25 youngsters at his Ryne Reynoso Winter Break Baseball Camp Monday in Hailey.

The decade is done and the jury is out on what it all meant.

Was it a disappointing clunker, a third strike looking with runners on base, a long foul ball, or was it something a little better, like the small satisfaction of a two-out RBI single? What was accomplished when the bleachers emptied?

Bellevue's Ryne Reynoso, for one, can look back on the decade and celebrate progress and accomplishments.

He started in 2000 as a skinny freshman on the Wood River High School baseball team and ended up in 2009 as a valued pitching prospect climbing through the Atlanta Braves major league baseball organization.

Along the way he was the main man in Wood River's first and only state high school baseball championship, in 2003.

He graduated from a prestigious NCAA Division 1 school, Boston College, and played baseball for three years at Chestnut Hill. He was a good son to his parents, Ron Reynoso and Pam Street, and a good brother to Tyson Reynoso and Tara Bell. He learned how much fun, and how much work, professional baseball is.

This year Reynoso made major strides in his goal of reaching "The Show," which is the Crash Davis "Bull Durham" movie term for making the major leagues. For that, and for all his years of striving, the Idaho Mountain Express named Ryne Reynoso its "2009 Athlete of the Year."

Righthander Reynoso was ace of the pitching staff for the Mississippi Braves of the Class AA Southern League in Pearl, Miss. At one point he was named Southern League "Player of the Week."

In Mississippi, Reynoso, 24, finished as team leader in innings pitched (148), games started (24) and ERA (3.47) among pitchers with more than 90 innings. It was his second full minor league season as a starting pitcher. His stats were a 7-9 record, 89 K and 59 BB.

And in September, Boston College grad Reynoso was called up to the Triple A Gwinnett Braves of the International League—one step below Atlanta's major league ball club.

He shares an apartment in the Buckhead area of Atlanta with two Atlanta Braves major league pitchers. They even sent out a funny Christmas card pictured together.

One roomie is righthanded starter Tommy Hanson, 23, the 6-6, 220-pounder from Redlands (Calif.) East Valley High School who burst upon the Braves scene in June and compiled an 11-4 record and 2.89 ERA. The other is 24-year-old reliever Kris Medlen, the native Californian who came up to throw in 67 innings and 37 Braves games, with a 3-5 record and 4.26 ERA.

Medlen, a 5-10, 175-pound righthander, had been Gwinnett's top pitcher with a 5-0 record and 1.19 ERA. In May he signed a one-year $400,000 contract with the Braves, plus an $85,000 signing bonus. Hanson's big payday still awaits. He was third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.

"Just being around these guys, they're learning so much in the big leagues, and it makes me want it so much more," said Reynoso last week.

Gwinnett is where Reynoso expects to start the 2010 season. He is considered a wild card in the Braves farm system, but he's got a lot going for him, particularly his will to win and competitiveness. He's certainly not the classic "Bull Durham" Nuke LaLoosh "million-dollar arm with a five-cent head" pitcher.

For one thing, he's a college graduate, one of a tiny percentage of pro baseball players who have earned their degrees.

He's adaptable. Remember, Reynoso spent his Boston College years predominantly as an outfielder. But the Braves drafted him in the 26th round (790th overall pick) of the 2006 Major League Baseball Draft as a pitcher.

"I learned a lot more of the mental side of pitching this year," said Reynoso on Monday, taking a break from his Ryne Reynoso Winter Break Baseball Camp held at the Community Campus gym in Hailey.

He added, "I left the mechanics of pitching aside and worked a lot more on the purpose of pitching—working the lower half of the strike zone and pitching inside with good, quality balls, lots of times early in the counts. I wasn't even a ground ball pitcher. Lots of times I would get pop-ups early in the count. I seemed to walk more guys, but they were purpose walks. I knew I was walking them to minimize damage."

Reynoso gained knowledge from catcher J.C. Boscan and his pitching coach Marty Reed. Boscan, 30, a 6-2, 215-pound Venezuelan, was in his 14th minor league season, a true bush league veteran like Durham Bulls catcher Crash Davis of the Ron Shelton movie.

"I tried to learn what he was teaching," said Reynoso, who normally went right along with Boscan's game calling.

Reed's message to Reynoso was consistent and direct. Reynoso said, "I learned a lot in side work between my starts. He would say to me, you don't have the natural stuff of say, a first-rounder. Your big tool, he told me, is that you are able to will yourself to win. I liked the way I battled this year. I tried not to let myself give up."

< A fastball that tops out at 93 to 94 miles per hour and generally arrives at 91-92 is Reynoso's main pitch, like it was when he was baffling Idaho batters seven or eight years ago. He worked more and more on a split-fingered fastball the last month of the 2009 season, but the slider is where Reynoso made some big advances.

"I started throwing my slider for strikes and it helped me a ton," he said. "Getting ahead in the count with the slider was a big thing for me. I did work on my change-up, but right now that's my weak point. It's there some days, and it's not there on other days—real inconsistent."

Another encouraging sign for Reynoso was pitching deeper into the games for Mississippi. When he was the staff ace of the Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach (S.C.) Pelicans in 2008 with a 10-6 record and 3.36 ERA in a staff-high 131 innings, Reynoso mostly pitched five or six innings.

"I think last year I pitched seven innings only once for Myrtle Beach," said Reynoso. That came at an opportune time for the Pelicans, as Reynoso scattered seven hits in seven frames to pitch the Pelicans past the Winston-Salem (N.C.) Warthogs 11-5 to win the Southern Divisional Series three games to one.

"But this year I really started to chew up the innings," said Reynoso. "I was going deeper into games. For me, it's really been pitching to contact and getting outs that way."

And that, of course, recalls one of the most memorable Crash Davis lines from "Bull Durham": "Relax, all right? Don't try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they're fascist. Throw some ground balls—it's more democratic."

That's another thing Reynoso has learned about minor league baseball in the last three summers, starting with his 2007 relief pitching stint (1.98 ERA, 9 saves) with the Class A Rome (Ga.) Braves. It's been a lot of fun. Reynoso fits right in, with his ebullience and gregarious nature.

"You're around the same guys for five or six months. Things happen. In minor league ball you have to have an extremely thick skin. It's nothing except ripping on each other and pranks like you wouldn't believe. When the older guys punk you, you just have to go along," he said.

Here is one Mississippi Braves prank that touches on the Crash Davis quote, "Don't think—you can only hurt the ball club."

Reynoso said the Braves were visiting one town for six straight days this summer, unusually long for a road stay. On the first day, the bullpen pitchers, notorious for the amount of down time on their hands, decided to start digging a hole. By the second day, it was three feet deep. On the third day, it was six feet deep and relievers summoned into the game arrived on the mound weary from digging chores.

By the final day it was 14 feet deep—dirt yanked up via buckets and rope like some bad World War II movie—and one reliever went missing for a few minutes in the hole during the National Anthem.

Reynoso is rarely speechless, but he quieted this past season when he came face-to-face with Ryne Sandberg, then manager of the Chicago Cubs AA team and now the manager of the AAA Iowa Cubs. Reynoso's father Ron is a Chicago Cubs fan and named his son after Spokane native Sandberg, a Hall of Fame second baseman for the Cubs.

"I'm usually good at these kind of situations with famous people," said Reynoso, who is currently training with big leaguers John Smoltz, Paul Byrd and Andruw Jones in the circuit training program of trainer Peter Hughes of Stars Performance.

"Sandberg was talking with some of my teammates and I finally went up to him, but I was shaking. He was really nice, though, all pumped up because he heard I was named for him. And he signed a baseball for me," he said.

Reynoso hopes he'll be signing a lot more baseballs in the years ahead, the way he did Monday for many awestruck kids at the Hailey camp.

He has beefed up from the 6-2, 205 pounds he has been listed at on The Baseball Cube Web site, to 230 pounds—most of the weight in the lower half of his body. He said, "There are 10 of us in the low weights, high reps circuit training. It has gotten me in good cardio shape and my legs feel strong."

Reynoso expects to begin the 2010 season as the fourth or fifth starting pitcher of the Gwinnett Braves in the International League.

He said he's hoping for a non-roster invitation to the big league Braves training camp in early February. Otherwise he'll report in mid-February for two and a half weeks to the minor league pitcher camp, also at Lake Buena Vista, Fla. near Orlando and Disney World.

He's ready for anything. Reynoso said, "I have no idea what the Braves plan is for me, but I have relieved in the past and I can do that again. I've seen the adjustments I've had to make, and I've made them."

On the plate and on the mound, Reynoso has been the best baseball player ever produced in the valley.

Reynoso was a powerful slugger and gap hitter for Wood River, batting .424 with 11 HR and 77 RBI in 47 games for the American Legion ball club during the program's best ever summer season, 40-20 in 2002.

Before enrolling at Boston College, he was a lights-out pitcher, going 16-7 for the WR Legion in 2001-02 and a school-record 23-5 for the Wood River High School team from 2001-03 including 11-2 during its 2003 state championship year.

At Boston College, he batted .311 with a .511 slugging percentage in his sophomore year of 2005. As a junior he struggled more with hitting, but patrolled right field in Fenway Park and went 3-for-3 when the Eagles beat Harvard 10-2 in the 2007 Beanpot championship game.

He has accomplished much.

"I guess I'm surprised the big leagues are right there, so close. But then again I've taken it one step at a time and I've grinded it out. I do think that if I get a shot, I'll make the most of it," Reynoso said.

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