CLEARWATER, Fla. -- During the eight seasons that he played second base for the Seattle Mariners, Harold Reynolds never finished fewer than seven games out of first place. The only important games he ever played in September were those the Mariners needed to lose in 1986 to lock up the first pick in the draft and a shot at Ken Griffey Jr.
But get this: After losing his job and signing with the Orioles last December, he was overcome by a vague sadness he could not shake.
It didn't make sense. He was giving up a reserve role on a last-place team in the unexciting Kingdome and getting a place in the everyday lineup on an 89-game winner that contended into September in front of 59 straight sellouts at a fabulous, new ballpark.
A general manager gets a raise for such a lopsided trade. Reynolds was melancholy.
Imagine if he had signed with a real A-plus club with serious postseason intentions. He would have been inconsolable.
"Naw, it wasn't like that," he said yesterday morning in the Orioles clubhouse, smiling. "It was just that Seattle was my home. It's like that first year you go away to college and you can't believe you're not going to be living at home anymore. No matter what it was like, you miss it. It feels weird not being there. You call home all the time that first semester . . ."
He pulled an Orioles T-shirt over his head, thought for a minute and laughed.
". . . but then you get into that second semester and you wake up one day and realize you haven't called home in a while, like three weeks or something. That longing feeling is kind of, you know, well, it's just gone."
Reynolds is hitting that second semester this spring. The realization is starting to sink in: He can talk about contending for a division title, and it's not just spring bluster. He is on a team that has a chance, hon. Finally.
"It's so exciting I can't begin to explain it," he said. "I came to Baltimore for a month after I signed, and I woke up every day saying, 'What am I doing in Baltimore? How did I get here?' Well, now it's starting to hit home. I'm in the right place and I know it. The mourning is gone."
In the Blue Jays clubhouse this spring, Paul Molitor is talking about the strangeness of wearing a different uniform after 15 years in Milwaukee. Reynolds laughs at the concept.
"I don't have that problem," he said. "Paul won in Milwaukee. He had a lot to remember. I needed a change. Badly. It's funny. I was in Seattle awhile, but this uniform already feels right on me. Like it was the right one."
It's right because he is 32 years old and his offensive production has dropped the past three years, which means he better get around to winning pretty soon if he's ever going to do it. The Orioles might not be the suitable vehicle, but there's sufficient reason to hope.
"It's a cliche, but I would have played for $10 this year if it meant having a chance to win as opposed to another year of losing," he said. "I've done everything else in this game. I've made a lot of money. I've played in All-Star Games. I just wanted to play in big games. I wanted my shot at the playoffs."
You can't blame him. He has played in 1,155 major-league games, and his next big one will be his first. He was so ready for a change, he is even charged up by the atmosphere in camp.
"The manner here is extremely professional," he said. "I don't know if it's the presence of Cal and Sutcliffe or what. But in Seattle the people [in management] spent so much time worrying about extraneous stuff, like what you were doing off the field. Here, all I see are players going about the business of getting ready for a championship season. It's a mature situation. I love it."
His anticipated role once the games begin is not much of a secret. The Orioles want him to get on base. And run. And bunt. And get on base a little more. And run a little more. Did we mention get on base?
"[Coach] Davey Lopes came to me after a couple of days of camp and said, 'Man, you've got to get more aggressive,' " Reynolds said. "Talk about a slap in the face. I thought I was. But he was right. I hadn't had the green light the last couple of years, and maybe I was still on that speed. I don't know. But they made it known what they want here. I can't wait."
There isn't a happier camper anywhere in baseball this spring. He has a position. He has a contender. He has a chance. What's wrong with this picture? Nothing.
"The Seattle blues are history, man," he said. "All gone."