The trade that may have thawed the rather chilly front-office relationship between the New York Mets and New York Yankees also may have ignited the career of Darren Reed, who for four years felt freeze-dried in the throes of the Yankee organization.
The swap came during last year's winter meetings, when Yankee minor leaguers Reed, a catcher/outfielder from Ventura, Phil Lombardi, also a catcher/outfielder, and pitcher Steve Frey stripped their pinstripes and handed them over to Mets shortstop Rafael Santana and minor league pitcher Victor Garcia.
It was the first trade involving a major league player between the intracity rivals since the Mets became an expansion franchise in 1962.
Although Reed cared little for front office peacemaking, the trade was the move he craved. It was not so much that Reed wanted to play for the Mets, but he felt he was languishing with the Yankees, an organization that has a poor record of promoting players from its minor league system. The Yankees had also stripped Reed of his true position and true love, moving him from behind the plate and dropping him in the outfield.
"At first I thought, 'Gosh, why the Mets, another powerhouse team?' " Reed said from a hotel room in South Portland, Me., where the Tidewater, Va., Tides, the Mets' triple-A team, were playing a recent weekend series. "But I didn't get down too much. I was just excited to get out of the Yankee organization. The Yankees don't give young players a chance."
Last season, when he split time between Columbus, Ohio, home of the Yankees' triple-A team, and the double-A club in Albany, N. Y., Reed batted .321, hit 30 home runs and drove in 103 runs. He also played in the Hall of Fame game in Cooperstown, N. Y., which the Yankees won, 2-0, over the Atlanta Braves. Reed had a run batted in and an assist from the outfield.
Reed's mother, Francis, perhaps had a more memorable time than Darren. She spent three days in Cooperstown, a sleepy hamlet in upstate New York, rubbing elbows with Dale Murphy's wife and the Yankee boss himself, George Steinbrenner. She had her picture taken with Steinbrenner on the streets of Cooperstown but keeps it tucked away in a drawer--under the screwdrivers and Scotch tape.
"Darren loved the trade," she said. "He was so excited because he had wanted to get out of the Yankee organization for so long. The year he was injured, they treated him like an orphan.
"As long as he was doing well, he was it. "
The injuries--a broken nose and a separated shoulder in 1984, his first season out of Ventura College, and a sore right shoulder in 1986--made Reed's road to the majors more arduous. Then came the trade, and with it, more injuries.
This season at Tidewater, Reed sought to make up for past inequities too quickly. He recently returned to the lineup after taking 20 days off to nurse sore ribs. He has also complained of a nagging soreness in his left knee, which caused him to miss 15 days. Reed's batting average is .241. He has three home runs and 25 RBIs in approximately 200 at-bats.
"I'm definitely not playing like I want to," Reed said. "I had 10 home runs in spring training, then I come here and I put too much pressure on myself. I wanted 30 home runs, I wanted to bat .300, but I would have done much better had I not put all this pressure on myself.
"I should have approached it a different way. I was over-swinging. I was trying to hit three homers in one at-bat."
Ventura College Coach Gary Anglin, who recruited Reed out of Ventura High and subsequently saw him break a number of school batting records, figures it is just a matter of time before Reed reaches his peak. During his one season at Ventura, Reed batted .426 with 58 hits and 11 home runs--all records. In 34 games, he also had 40 RBIs, 13 doubles, 19 stolen bases and scored 40 runs. From behind the plate, Reed threw out 33% of runners attempting to steal.
"At the UCLA alumni game this year I talked to Chris Chambliss, who was Darren's hitting instructor with the Yankees," Anglin said. "And he said, 'We all know Darren's going to make it, we just don't know with who.' "
Reed has time on his side. At 22, he is the second-youngest player on the Tides' roster. Only phenom shortstop Gregg Jeffries is younger.
"Darren's a little young, and like a lot of young guys, he's a little impatient," Tidewater Manager Mike Cubbage said. "He has a good swing, a good body, he's a strong kid and he likes to play the game. Yeah, he's got the ability to play in the major leagues."
And, for the first time, he feels he has the right organization on his side.