Reese, Pokey 1973–
Pokey Reese 1973–
Professional baseball player
Shaking off a childhood of poverty and an adulthood of personal tragedy, Cincinnati’s Pokey Reese used a combination of grit and determination to become one of best young players in major league base ball. Starting the new millennium as a promising secondbaseman, Reese pulled him self up to the top ranks of the; game by doing it the hard way. With perseverance and patience on his side, the young man from South Carolina has become one of the major league’s most promising players.
Born Calvin Reese on June 10, 1973 in Arthurtown, South Carolina, Reese grew up in a small community that had been established by freed slaves. Raised by his mother and grandmother in a two-bedroom dwelling, Reese had to share space with four sibling and two other cousins. The conditions of his upbringing were rather grim, living in a town with no sewers, no running water, and with kids sleeping two to a bed. “Psokey’s family had an outhouse, “Larry Stone wrote in the Seattle Times.” To get water, they walked a half-mile to their grandfather’s place and pump it from a well. To take a bath, they heated water on the stove. Washing clothes consisted of rubbing them, item by item, on an outdoor washboard.”
Reese learned at a young age to take nothing for granted. When he used his mother’s flour to line a baseball field, the whipping he received taught him a valuable lesson. “That flour was 80 biscuits to my mom, “Reese told Stone. “We were dirt poor. We didn’t have nothing. When I say nothing, I mean nothing.”
Baseball dominated Reese’s youth, and, even at a young age, he showed flashes of talent he would ultimately harvest as an adult. “The one constant in his life, besides his mother’s love, was baseball, which he played in his side yard with soda cans for bases,” Store wrote. His father, who was often absent from the household, played for the Columbia Bulldogs, a local semipro team. Reese acted as the batboy for his father’s team. “Once, a screaming foul ball was launched into the dugout,” Stone wrote. “All the Bulldogs ducked for cover except for young Pokey, then 10 years old, who calmly speared the ball barehanded.”
In 1992, Reese was selected by the Cincinnati Reds as their top draft. Reese worked his way through the minors before breaking into the major league in 1997. Most players pay their dues in the minors by making little money, playing a lot of baseball, and learning from
Born Calvin Reese on June 10, 1973, in Arthur-town, South Carolina; children: Naquwan and La Bresha.
Career: Baseball player. Cincinnati Reds, 1997-.
Awards: Gold Glove winner, 1999;
Addresses: c/o The Cincinnati Reds, 100 Cinergy Field, Cincinnati, OH 45202.
coaches as they go along. Reese was no exception. However, for Reese, the route to the majors was filled with mind-boggling personal tragedies, one after the other.
First, the fiancee and mother of his daughter, LaBresha, died in a car accident shortly after their engagement. That alone is enough grief for one person to experience in a lifetime. Later, the mother of his son, Naquwan, died while giving birth to a second child she conceived with another man. The dreadfully final scene in Reese’s real-life drama came in 1999, when his mother and grandmother were murdered in South Carolina.
Reese’s first season as a professional was atypical of a young player breaking into the pro ranks. He finished 1997 with a .219 batting average, with 87 hits, and four runs scored. He played in 128 games of a 182-game season, walking 31 times, and stealing 25 bases. Those numbers were considered decent for even league veterans, but Reese would show everyone that the best was yet to come.
According to a scouting report posted on the ESPN webstie, “The book on Reese used to be that you could knock the bat out of his hands with an average major league fastball.” Not exactly a home run hitter, Reese relied on his speed and defense. He played second base, but manager Jack McKeon shifted him around the infield, giving him stints at third base and shortstop. Reese’s hitting improved, but his speed on the bases remained his best assets. The ESPN scouting report observed, “With his blinding speed, quick first step and good judgement, Reese easily can become a high-percentage, 50-steal man. He aggressively looks to take the extra base…He also has a strong arm and soft hands, and by midseason last year  he was turning double plays like a veteran.”
In 1998, a thumb injury limited Reese to only 59 games. While diving for a ball, Reese tore a ligament in his right thumb. The injury required surgery. In his 59 games, Reese hit one homer with 16 RBI and 34 hits. To add insult to injury, Reese tied a National League record for most errors by a shortstop in the opening game of the season with four.
All that changed in 1999. A healthy Reese returned, tore apart the infield and the plate, and was named a Gold Glove player. In 149 games, Reese put up numbers that were promising. Coupled with impressive fielding ability, Reese finished with a career-high 167 hits, .85 batting average, 10 home runs 52 RBI, and 85 runs scored. He finished the campaign tied for fifth in stolen bases amongst National Leaguers with 38. While those numbers are impressive, they were not All-Star stats. However, it was Reese’s future potential that garnered the most attention.
Reese returned in 2000 and put up similar numbers. In 135 games, he hit 12 home runs, had 46 RBI, stole 29 bases, and scored 76 runs. After that year, the Reds front office rewarded Reese with a new contract for $3.2 million.
Despite a nice contract and escalating promise in baseball, it was 1999’s offseason that marked Reese as one of the most promising players. That year, the Reds front office negotiated a trade deal with Seattle for superstar outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. However, when Reese’s name came up as compensation for the perennial All-Star Griffey, Reds general manager Jim Bowden balked. As if to say “no way,” Bowden’s actions pointed to Reese as the Reds player of the future. Some professional athletes when hung out for trade bait might get a little nervous or uncomfortable. “That’s not pressure,” Reese told Sports Illustrated.“Getting to the big leagues—that was pressure. If people want to ask me about it, that’s fine. They can come at me all they want. But they should talk to Jim Bowden. It wasn’t me who didn’t make the trade. I’m just honored to be mentioned in the same sentence as Ken Griffey.”
Forever known as the player Bowden would not part with for Ken Griffey, Jr., Reese has secured his status as one of the league’s most outstanding players. In Sports Illustrated, Arizona Diamondbacks’ coach Buck Showalter had nothing but praise for Reese: “I thought there were two or three games this year when the Reds beat us just because of Pokey Reese, especially on defense.” Showalter also noted that, while fans and writers speculated that competition for the Golden Glove award was a toss-up between Edgardo Alfonzo of the New York Mets and Reese, there was not doubt for anyone in baseball that Reese would win. As Showalter told Sports Illustrated, “He’s that good.”
The Seattle Times, Tuesday, March 7, 2000.
Sports Illustrated, Dec. 20, 1999, vol. 91, p. 128.
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