For former MLB pitcher Jeff Reardon, October is about memories
October is a reference point for Jeff Reardon.
He says it's the only month of the year that he can reflect upon and remember specific things in his life. That's probably not 100 percent true, after all there are birthdays and anniversaries to recall, and the tragic events of February 2004, when his son, Shane, died of a drug overdose at the age of 20.
But it's fair to say October rallies Reardon and his wife, Phebe. Reardon, the Dalton native and 1973 Wahconah Regional High School graduate who now lives in Palm Gardens, Fla., closed out the 1987 World Series for the Minnesota Twins in October, inducing Willie McGee of the St. Louis Cardinals to ground out to third-baseman Gary Gaetti. That final play set off a huge celebration in the Metrodome and the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But it wasn't that celebration that made the front of a Wheaties box. A week earlier, Reardon had fielded a come-backer from the Detroit Tigers' Matt Nokes for the final out in the deciding Game 5 of the American League Championship Series that thrust the Twins into the Fall Classic.
The emotions of that moment, Reardon said, were every bit the rush that winning the Series proved to be.
"Nokes had homered off me the night before to win Game 4," Reardon said. "I wasn't the greatest fielder, so if I looked surprised catching that [one-hopper] then it's probably because of what happened the previous night.
"But yeah, the celebration picture they used on the Wheaties box was from that game. I could tell because we were in Detroit and we were wearing our road uniforms."
That ALCS win over the Tigers, said Reardon, was just as sweet as the World Series victory.
"Some of the Detroit players were popping off a bit," Reardon said. "The Tigers had won 103 games that year, while we won only 87. They were talking about a sweep, but [manager] Tom Kelly told us to stay quiet and just play our game. He said if we did that we could win."
The champion Twins were also on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
"That celebration picture was from the Series," Reardon said. "All you could see of me was part of my beard at the bottom of the pile. I remember I could hardly breathe. We had some big guys on that team -- Kent Hrbek went about 260 pounds, and Gaetti and Tom Brunansky were pretty big boys."
Reardon, who turned 58 on Oct. 1, still wears the familiar dark beard that fans remember as part of his mound presence. A 6-footer who was shy of 200 pounds, the right-hander pounded the strike zone with an electric fastball. He is currently seventh on the all-time save list with 367, and was Major League Baseball's all-time leader in saves when he retired in 1994.
The beard, he said, wasn't about intimidation. It was more about the fact that no sooner did he shave then he'd have to shave again.
"After my rookie year [with the New York Mets] I grew it," Reardon said. "Back then you just didn't do things like grow a beard when you were a rookie."
Reardon sounded rather amused by this year's Red Sox team that has caught the fancy of New England fans with their collective Neanderthal bearded looks.
"I mean, come on," Reardon said. "The least some of those guys could do is trim them up a little. I always kept mine trim and neat."
The former University of Massachusetts-Amherst pitcher spent the 1990 and 1991 seasons with Boston before being moved to the Atlanta Braves near the end of the 1992 season. He contributed postseason innings for the Red Sox and again in 1992, when the Braves fell to the Toronto Blue Jays in the World Series. He also saw postseason duty with the Montreal Expos during the strike-shortened 1981 campaign.
Standing on the mound with a baseball in your hand during the World Series or just the postseason, Reardon said, "is a childhood dream come true."
Reardon said he kept an eye on Mariano Rivera's farewell tour around the majors this summer. MLB's current all-time save leader with 652, the Yankees' star was honored in every park he visited during what was his final campaign.
Reardon, like some others, thought the tour might have been a bit over the top. He gave it a mental shrug.
"It wasn't like he was Babe Ruth or something," Reardon said, adding with tongue-in-cheek that he wouldn't have minded a similar tribute during his final year in the game when he was also baseball's all-time saves leader.
The Red Sox were Reardon's favorite team while he was growing up in Dalton, and nothing has changed. The Twins also remain close to his heart and the feeling is reciprocal.
"I get treated well out there," he said.
He's also treated well in Boston, and in Dalton, which he visits a few times a year. A sign on Dalton's American Legion baseball field on Route 9 bears Reardon's name and likeness. It was dedicated in 1990.
A chronic bad back kept Reardon from attending the Red Sox celebration of Fenway Park's 100th birthday at the beginning of the 2012 season.
"Even when I pitched," he recalled, "my routine was to spend the first three innings in the dugout, and then have the trainer work on my back for a few innings before going down to the bullpen. So, for 16 years or so I had a professional rubdown just about every night I played. You could say I was spoiled a bit."
Reardon is picking the Red Sox to capture this year's World Series flag in six games.
"I just think they are due to break out and start hitting," he said. "That's just my opinion. St. Louis has all those young pitchers and that left-field wall looks very close when you're standing on the [Fenway Park] mound."
Reardon said if the Cardinals do prevail, then it will be in no small part due to the veteran catching presence of Yadier Molina and his calming influence over the young Redbirds' staff.
Molina, said Reardon, reminds him of Hall-of-Famer Gary Carter, who caught Reardon during his early years with the Expos. The friendship between the two lasted until February 2012, when Carter died of brain cancer at 57.
When Reardon visits Shane at the cemetery that is just a few blocks from where he lives, he also visits Carter, who lived nearby. Carter's wife, Sandy, is still good friends with Jeff and Phebe.
"It was so sad with Gary," Reardon said. "It was so quick."
So it's October, and the baseball winds blow stronger through Reardon's mind more than any other month on the calendar. Someone soon will throw the final triumphant pitch of the World Series and a young man is sure to know the elation that Reardon felt in 1987.
One last toss, and then jubilation few can imagine.
"It was fun," Reardon said. "I miss it."
Brian Sullivan can be reached at email@example.com.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.