"Coach, tell Barry Larkin that I was a quarterback."
I love this vignette from Neil White of The State's fantastic interview with Pokey Reese. You can hear the nagging in young Pokey's voice, and Barry chuckling with over vets over the beanpole insisting that he was a multisport athlete.
Pokey's such an interesting character. He's a very quiet dude, and his life seems to have been, for lack of a better term, on the verge of great, with an overwhelming tinge of awful. His fiancee was killed in a car crash while he was in the minors, which was no doubt devastating. Then when he fell for another woman, she died also. He was devoted to the Reds at the worst possible time to be devoted to the Reds. Soon after the high point of his career, winning a World Series, his shoulder popped and his career ended.
The Reds have had a relationship with South Carolina. Cory Thompson, fifth round pick of 2013 and potential SS of the future, is from Mauldin. The dumb storyline of 2007, Marcus McBeth and Jon Coutlangus, went to USC together. Reggie Sanders was from Florence. Y'all.
This normally wouldn't be that interesting, but I'm a bit fascinated by Pokey's post-baseball career. Namely, running a trucking company. Pokey probably has a decent pension, but he of course never went to college and never got paid more than $3M in a season. Reese missed out on life-changing money, and had a brother in the trucking biz, so here he is — sitting around in Gamecock gear talking about Barry Larkin.
The state's been in my mind for a while since I wrote a weird, rambly, very drunk elegy before the 2012 season that honestly is kind of tough to read nowadays. I remember feeling, well not uncomfortable but deeply un-used to South Carolina then. Like yeah, it's America, but it's a very different America than the one I'm used to.
That didn't stop me from putting Pokey Reese on the cover of my 8th-grade autobiography. Which was dumb for many fundamental and clear reasons, but still. I liked watching him play. I would have liked him more had I seen photographs like the one for this card from his days as a Lookout. Good gracious I want that in a shirsey:
Pokey was drafted in 1991, amazingly. That was the Brien Taylor draft, and both Dmitri Young and Manny Ramirez went off the board before the rifle-arm from Hopkins. He would also be the only first-round pick worth a damn until Austin Kearns. There was something simply very soothing about Pokey that I really liked to watch, like he was watching the ocean lap at his feet. It shouldn't come as a surprise that he was a lockdown defender to get the Red Sox their last likeable World Series.
And it must be weird to be drafted on the heels of a world championship and to come up in the relatively-great 1990s, only to have to deal with the Bowden Reds when you get to the bigs. Reese's life was probably full of disappointments that overshadowed his ability to shine. His talent shined brightly, but there was a whole lot of darkness which even that could not penetrate. It's hardly his fault, no duh, but he's one of many Reds I wished I could've seen lifting a trophy even in those goddawful uniforms. But it wasn't to be.
Running a trucking company may not seem like peacefulness, but judging by the interview, he's happy. South Carolina may not be a place I've figured out, but Pokey's very much at home there. It's weird seeing the cover of one's 8th-grade autobiography as a relatively-grizzled old man at 41, but Pokey's seen a lot and been through many lifetimes of pain. It's nice seeing him seemingly as placid and pleasant as he was on the diamond. Hopefully I can join him feeling that out in a few decades.