Experience, thicker arms combine to create Mega Mark
Reynolds continues to swing for the fences with impressive power stroke
CLEVELAND -- The instant his bat met the ball, Mark Reynolds dropped his lumber to the dirt, took three steps, glared at the pitcher, spit and commenced his trot around the bases. The baseball landed three rows in front of the scoreboard atop the left-field bleachers at Progressive Field.
This is Mega Mark.
More than a decade ago, a bleach-blond, moppy-headed lanky middle infielder and four-time letter winner translated his quick, powerful stroke into a baseball scholarship to the University of Virginia.
That was Skeletor.
Over the years, Reynolds has grown into his 6-foot-2 frame. At First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Va., however, his teammates bestowed upon him the nickname Skeletor to reflect his gangly build.
One thing that has never changed over time is Reynolds' propensity to swing for the hills.
"I always had a knack for hitting it over the fences," Reynolds said.
Reynolds rarely gets cheated. He takes a barbaric hack at every pitch that flirts with the strike zone.
"He spends the whole dollar," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He's not looking to hit any wall scrapers. He's not even really looking to go the other way sometimes. He's up there with a purpose and a plan. It's fun to watch his at-bats, that's for sure."
Reynolds generates so much bat speed that he often produces an all-or-nothing swing. In his seventh big league season, Reynolds is closing in on his 200th home run. But he also led the league in strikeouts for four consecutive years (2008-11) and saw his batting average dip as low as .198, in 2010.
When he struggled, the words written by reporters seemed bolder. Taunts shouted by fans seemed louder and more vicious. Everything snowballed, and a puzzled, frazzled Reynolds could not solve his frequent slumps. In April 2012, Reynolds batted .143 (9-for-63) with 30 strikeouts and zero home runs.
Then he had an epiphany, an acknowledgement not obtainable for a young kid aiming for the stars each time he approached the plate.
"Experience is a beautiful thing," Reynolds said.
He realized that just because he had finally filled out his frame, it did not mean he was done growing. He still had room to mature mentally.
Now, a few whiffs do not faze him.
"It's tough, but I know at the same time, I'm one swing away from breaking out of it," Reynolds said. "I just try to focus on the positives. I used to care about what people wrote or said about strikeouts, but I don't give a [darn] anymore. I'm just trying to do my best to help us win games."
The home runs do not really bewilder him, either. His moonshot over a scoreboard far beyond the outfield fence in Spring Training left his teammates in awe. Reynolds, though, remains fully invested in his even-keeled mindset.
"They all count," he said. "First row, back row, whatever. It doesn't matter. It's just a homer."
His manager agrees.
"As long as it hits the seats, we're happy," Cleveland skipper Terry Francona said. "They're not going to give us extra credit."
Reynolds has maintained his levelheaded demeanor throughout a stellar first six weeks of the regular season. Through Wednesday, he sat in a tie atop the American League leaderboard with 11 home runs, but he cautioned a group of reporters not to toss too much individual praise his direction.
"Wait until I go 0-for-30," Reynolds said. "You will be all over me."
The new Reynolds, the one with the Mega Mark label and a carefree mindset, might be more equipped to thwart such a slump. To this point, his home runs have justified the Indians' decision to sign him over the winter.
All 11 of Reynolds' roundtrippers have either tied the game, given the Indians the lead or extended their advantage. Last season, Carlos Santana led the Tribe with 18 homers. Reynolds is on pace to match that mark by mid-June.
"At any point in time, he just crushes the ball," pitcher Justin Masterson said. "It's pretty cool to see. That's why the fans come. They want to see homers. He's hit some pretty big ones for us in big spots."
Reynolds' at-bats have become must-watch TV for fans at home and can't-turn-away moments for those at the ballpark and in the dugout.
"He has a chance to hit a home run on every pitch," Nick Swisher said. "It doesn't matter where the ball is in the zone, either. That's what's crazy. Most people have a couple hot spots. His are all over the place. No matter where you throw it, he has a chance to hit that thing out. It's been so much fun to watch him."
Swisher watched Reynolds' power display firsthand last season. In a span of nine games beginning in late August, Reynolds deposited nine baseballs into the outfield seats. During that stretch, he tallied three multihomer games against Swisher's Yankees.
So when Swisher first witnessed Reynolds' ability to splash fastballs into the upper deck, he cultivated an appropriate nickname, applying a twist to the name of superhero Mega Man. The moniker Mega Mark signaled a complete transformation for the player whose high school teammates used to refer to him by a description of his skinniness.
"He ain't skinny now," Swisher said, laughing. "It's just his bat -- that baby's coming through, and it's coming through with some force."
There was no better demonstration of that than when Reynolds unleashed a threat on the Progressive Field scoreboard.
The 460-foot homer left veteran slugger Jason Giambi with only a few words.
"That's why we call him Mega Mark," Giambi said.