When Shane Reynolds headed to Venezuela in 1991, he was determined to get his baseball career in gear.
Back then, the Bastrop native was in the Houston Astros farm system. His Double-A manager, Rick Sweet, was going to Venezuela for winter ball, and the organization invited Reynolds to play there.
“I’d had a good second half of the season in Double-A,” Reynolds said. “They usually only take guys with Triple-A experience or less than a year of big league experience over there. But they wanted me to play, and I went.”
Good fortune brought Reynolds together with Brent Strom, who had a knack for helping pitchers reach their potential. Then a coach at Triple-A Tucson, Strom didn’t force pitchers into cookie-cutter concepts and excelled at identifying and sharpening their strengths.
So after watching Reynolds throw a few games, Strom asked him, “Do you want to pitch 10 years in the minors — or one year in the big leagues?”
Reynolds didn’t dwell on the answer: “I said, ‘One year in the big leagues.’ ”
That was it, Reynolds said.
“He completely changed me,” he said. “My mechanics were like a power pitcher, but I only threw about 90. You’re not really a power pitcher throwing 90 miles per hour. I had a so-so curveball and not a really good changeup.”
On faraway mounds in Venezuela, Reynolds followed a mentor toward his destiny. Strom helped Reynolds develop a more upright delivery and showed him how to add movement to his fastball. Reynolds gained better control of his curve and added a split-finger fastball.
“I think that made my career and helped me get to the big leagues and stay there,” Reynolds said. “Brent Strom — yeah, I owe pretty much everything to him.”
Reynolds eventually became one of the top pitchers in the National League. He was Houston’s Opening Day starter five straight seasons, helped the team win four division titles and made the 2000 NL All-Star team.
Reynolds won 103 games for the Astros over 11 seasons, posting 20 complete games and seven shutouts. Houston inducted him into its Astros Walk of Fame in 2012.
“He was my favorite pitcher I ever worked with,” said Strom, who also counts 1988 Cy Young winner Orel Hershiser as a former pupil. “I’ve never had a pitcher who took the information that I gave ... take the information and work as hard.”
For all he accomplished in baseball, Reynolds enters the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame as part of its induction Class of 2014. He will be enshrined June 21 to cap the June 19-21 induction celebration. A complete schedule is available at LaSportsHall.com or can be obtained by calling the Hall of Fame Foundation at (318) 238-4255.
“That’s very special, especially in your home state,” Reynolds said. “I’ve always said, ‘Hey, I’m from Monroe and Bastrop, Louisiana.’ I spent most of my adult life married in Texas, but when I got the call about the Louisiana Hall of Fame — wow, it was a very, very special honor.”
Growing up in Bastrop and later playing prep sports at Ouachita Christian School in Monroe, Reynolds was a well-rounded athlete. But reflecting on those days, Reynolds called himself a late bloomer who just kept plugging along.
“My parents, especially my dad, instilled a work ethic,” he said. “He worked hard in his job his whole life. He was my Little League coach from 8 years old until 18. He was very instrumental in my preparation and how I worked.”
It wasn’t until Reynolds’ senior year that people outside his circle started to pay attention. He was the ace of Micah Harper’s pitching staff and set a single-season OCS record at the time with 11 home runs over a 22-game schedule.
Reynolds spent two years at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Alabama, before transferring to Texas. Following a rocky junior year in which he clashed with coach Cliff Gustafson and was left off the College World Series roster, Reynolds was picked by Houston in the third round of the 1989 draft.
After promotions in 1992 and 1993 that yielded 13 appearances, Reynolds made it to Houston for good in 1994. He joined a rebuilding organization but was able to grow up in a clubhouse led by Craig Biggio and Jeff Bagwell.
Reynolds had a knack for finding and listening to people who could help him improve. He was inseparable from Astros strength and conditioning coach Gene Coleman and became fanatical about his workouts.
“There have been very few people who put in the work like Shane,” Coleman said. “There’s Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Shane that worked that hard.”
Reynolds had a motto that kept him churning: The harder you work, the luckier you get. At one time, his regimen between starts included distance running outside, 1,000 sit-ups per day, sprints, weight training and throwing.
“He was almost obsessive-compulsive about working out,” Coleman said. “If we did 10 rotations with a (medicine) ball to the right and only nine to the left, he’d let me know about it. We’d have to do it again.”
Reynolds said it was easy to concentrate on his career because his wife, Pam, was so supportive. High school sweethearts, they were together through the college years, five minor league stops and the majors.
“My wife is a strong individual,” he said. “I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am now without her.”
Reynolds wrapped up his career pitching for the Atlanta Braves in 2003 and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2004 before retiring with a career record of 114-96. In the end, injuries took their toll.
“I may have shortened my career because I worked myself so hard to be prepared, but I don’t have any regrets,” he said. “Working so hard, my pitching days were the easiest days. But the wear and tear — five knee surgeries, shoulder surgery, back surgery — yeah, that stuff will slow you down big-time.”
Reynolds recently moved to Monroe so his son Ryan could attend Ouachita Christian. Reynolds is a volunteer assistant with the baseball team, where his son is a standout sophomore.
“I’ve really enjoyed coaching with him,” Harper said. “He has come into our high school program and been a servant coach. Dig, rake, cut the grass — he serves. He knows what it takes to motivate these kids.”