September got off to a great start for Bryan Reynolds.
His wife, Blair, delivered the couple’s first child, Reese, on the first day of the month.
Three days later, the former Brentwood and Vanderbilt baseball star got a double and a three-run homer in his first two at-bats during his first game back with the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 6-2 over the Chicago Cubs.
“I hadn’t played in three days, so I guess I was just excited to be back out there,” Reynolds said. “That was pretty special and pretty cool.”
Reynolds cradled his arms as if rocking a baby after both hits. He got a little encouragement about the celebration from the Pirates’ dugout.
“Yeah, some guys mentioned that I should do it if I hit a homer or a double or something and I got to second and kind of forgot about it,” Reynolds said. “And then somebody in the dugout was doing it and I was, like, ‘Oh, yeah, I might as well.’ ”
Reynolds and his wife didn’t get much sleep those first few days with their first child.
“If he hasn’t got any sleep, maybe we’re just gonna go sleep deprivation on him and not let him sleep the whole month of September,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton kidded to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The big game gave Reynolds a lift after a slow start in which he’s hitting .181 in his first 127 at-bats through Thursday.
“I don’t necessarily think the pitching to me is any different,” said Reynolds, who finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting last season after hitting .314 with 16 homers and 68 RBIs. “My timing hadn’t really been there yet, but that’ll come. It’s just tough that it’s only 60 games this year, but that’s how it is.”
It’s been difficult for the outfielder to find his rhythm after the coronavirus pandemic delayed the season.
“Yeah, it’s just been a weird season,” Reynolds said. “We had most of spring training and then we get shut down and we’re home for three months or something and then kind of a rushed comeback with the Spring (Training) 2.0. But I’ve had 100 at-bats or so and so I’m hoping that my timing starts to get back and I’ll be able to hit again.
“It’ll come. It’s just taking a little longer, a little frustrating, but that’s baseball, that’s life, so it’s all right.”
There are no fans allowed at the games as a COVID-19 precaution.
“They’re doing the crowd noise, so at least it’s not awkward just hearing everybody breathe,” Reynolds said. “It’s definitely different, it feels like fall ball in college with nobody in the stands. But that’s just where we’re at right now and hopefully next year it’ll be back in the regular swing of things with fans and everything.”
Artificial crowd noise recordings are piped into the loudspeakers at some ballparks.
“They just have a constant rumble of a recording of fans somewhere,” Reynolds said. “It’s kind of like white noise and then if something good happens, they’ll turn it up and they’ll cheer louder for a home run or something. It’s just to try to have some sense of normalcy, a little bit of noise instead of just complete silence.”
Major League Baseball is taking plenty of precautions to protect players from the virus.
“We’re getting tested, like, every other day and obviously I hate being sick, so I don’t want to get it,” Reynolds said. “But if I get it chances are that it wouldn’t really be anything serious, but some other people may.”
The Pirates take three or four buses to the airport to help with social distancing. Pittsburgh only took one player bus and one staff bus to the airports last year.
“We have to get scanned in with temperature checks every day,” Reynolds said. “(We) wear a mask in the locker room and the hallways. We have to pre-order our food post-game on some app so we’re not all in a buffet-style eating (room).”
Hitting has always been one of Reynolds’ strengths. He batted. .329 in three seasons at Vanderbilt, .312 at High A San Jose, .302 at Double-A Altoona and .367 at Triple-A Indianapolis.
His calm approach at the plate helps him produce. Shelton told the (Pittsburgh) Tribune-Review that Reynolds has a slow heartbeat like a lot of elite hitters.
“I guess that’s just how I’ve always been,” Reynolds said. “Yeah, I think it’s just kind of natural for me to be as relaxed as possible. That’s when I’m going well.”
Reynolds, 25, keeps his approach simple. He just tries to put the barrel on the ball and not do too much.
“Maybe I’ll take my own advice and start doing that this season,’ Reynolds said.
He’s been a switch hitter since he was 10 years old and started doing it in games during his sophomore year at Brentwood.
Reynolds stays in touch on a group text message with his best friends Aaron Maher, Will Gaddis and Hunter Anderson – all former Brentwood teammates.
“Oh, man, high school baseball is just a blast,” Reynolds said. “I was playing with all my buddies that I’d grown up with my whole life.”
Reynolds hit .338 with 54 RBIs as a freshman at Vanderbilt helping the Commodores win their first national championship in 2014. Vandy took second nationally the following season.
“Obviously, we won all the time,” Reynolds said. “National champions and then runners-up. I made a lot of good buddies there and grew as a player and as a person. That’s what (Vandy coach Tim) Corbin harps on the most.”
The Pirates (14-27) are last in the NL Central, 10 games behind the first-place Cubs.
“We’re a pretty young team and we’ve had a good amount of injuries to our pitchers, but we’re starting to swing it a little better,” Reynolds said. “Hopefully, we can get some momentum this last month and carry it into the offseason and next season for us.”
Pittsburgh catcher Jacob Stallings, a former Brentwood Academy standout, is hitting .284 with 14 RBIs.
Stallings (6-5, 220) has improved from third string to starter.
Stallings, 30, ranks fifth in the majors with a 38.89 caught-stealing percentage.
“I would be hard-pressed to say that anybody’s caught better in baseball,” Shelton, a former minor league catcher, told the Tribune-Review at the 30-game point. “When you start to talk about Gold Gloves and handing them out, if he’s not at the top of the list, I think people are missing it.
"I don’t think anybody’s caught better. I don’t think anybody’s blocked better. I would be hard-pressed if anybody’s thrown the ball better, and I think he’s carrying that consistency into his at-bats.”