Ken Reynolds played pro baseball, but found his true passion in teaching

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By Nick Abramo, Sports Columnist

A baseball card shows Ken Reynolds in his rookie season in the major leagues. (Photo/Courtesy Bill Hedin)

MARLBOROUGH – Kenny Reynolds was a major league pitcher for much of the 1970s, but that experience doesn’t define who he is.

Two years after graduating from Marlborough High in 1964, Reynolds became the toast of the town as a sixth-round draft pick by the Philadelphia Phillies. But the man who spent 14 years in the pros, including six in the majors, didn’t find his true calling until much later. 

“It really wasn’t my cup of tea,” he said in a recent phone interview about his career that took the left-hander from the Phillies to the Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres. “It wasn’t the type of lifestyle I wanted. I thought it would be more beneficial teaching.”

Fortunately for Reynolds, now 74 and still living in Marlborough, his future path started as a player/coach at Triple-A Syracuse in his final two seasons in the pros. That led to a fulfilling profession as a physical education teacher at his alma mater, two stints as the Panthers’ baseball coach, and a gig as a minor league short-season coach in the Chicago Cubs’ organization.

For one of his former players when referring to Reynolds, the term “coach” could be replaced by “teacher.”

“The guy flat-out loved to teach,” said Derek Aramburu about his time under Reynolds as an MHS southpaw. “He loved to teach more than he loved to play baseball. He really could explain things. I took everything I could get from him.” 

One of the things Aramburu learned the hard way — due to Reynolds’ undying patience — was to keep his body closed until just before his foot touched the ground and then follow through with both shoulders like a wheel.

“He kept explaining to stay closed, closed, closed and it took me a long, long time to really get it, but it finally dawned on me,” said Aramburu, who credits Reynolds’ explanation of pitching mechanics with making it possible for him to go on to throw for the University of Maine and in the College World Series. “He was a teacher to all of us.”

Another example of Reynolds’ coaching tenacity came at practice, when he would put the ball in play and show everyone on the field where to be, something the players knew little about beforehand.

“Even a dribbler to first base, everyone has a place to go,” Aramburu said. “One time, I was in right field and didn’t go where I was supposed to. He stopped practice and called over, ‘Hey Derek. How does it look from over there?’ It was his way of injecting humor. But what I remember most about him is that he demanded humility from his players. He was a soft-spoken man, stoic and stern, and you could have fun, but there was a time for that.”

A baseball card shows Ken Reynolds playing minor league baseball as a player/coach near the end of his career. (Photo/Courtesy Bill Hedin)

Reynolds’ Panthers finished undefeated in the Midland League twice in the early ’80s.

Multi-sport star Joey Grasso, a catcher on those Marlborough teams, remembers in ’82 when center fielder Adam Battaglino camped under a lazy fly ball to clinch the Panthers’ first league championship in 25 years.

“Coach Reynolds gave us the tools to succeed and we executed,” Grasso said. “We had a former major leaguer coaching but you would never know it being around him. He never used that as leverage to browbeat you and was the most humble coach I ever played for. I was blessed to play for him, and the city of Marlborough was beyond lucky to have such a good, honest, humble man guiding those young minds. I know I will never forget.”

Anyone who knows Reynolds knows he doesn’t gloat over his major league days, but he does have many keen and indelible memories.

“My first major league game at the end of the 1970 season, I was brought in to face the Pirates’ Richie Hebner, Al Oliver and Willie Stargell,” Reynolds said, “I got two ground outs and walked Stargell on a 3-2 pitch that I thought was pretty good. In came a pinch runner who I played against in the minors. He was fast and I ended up picking him off first base.”

And not many can say they were teammates with Steve Carlton and regularly faced Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays as well as the daunting Big Red Machine in Cincinnati.

“Roberto Clemente got his 2,998th hit off of me on his way to 3,000,” Reynolds said, “And Hank Aaron didn’t get any (of his 755 home runs) off me.”