Wednesday, April 2, 1997
Triple A won't tarnish
Pokey's day at the top

BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The grandmother who named him flew in from South Carolina on Monday night, to see her grandson's dream meet the day. His mother did the same. On Tuesday afternoon, they sat in the blue seats behind home plate, framed in sunshine. Clara Reese wore a bright red pantsuit.

''I'm proud of all my kids,'' Clara said. ''But this is it. This is the moment right here. I know he's made it. To see his name on that shirt...''

At that moment her son, Calvin ''Pokey'' Reese, stood along the first-base line, Reds cap in hand, shoulder to shoulder with Johnny Bench.

He had been through some things to get there. Knee surgery last year, a bad ankle the year before. Four years ago during spring training, his fiancee died when the car she was driving ran off the road. Pokey was 19, with a baby daughter.

Most of us walk miles to get to where we want to be. Reese had walked more than that. ''He's overcome some things,'' Clara Reese said.

Opening Day means different things to each of us, all of them personal and forever. ''Going to the game'' evokes a feeling all its own, when the game is the first one of the year.

''This is what it's all about. Being with these guys,'' Reese had said. ''Getting ready to line up on the foul line, getting my name introduced in front of thousands of people.''

Reese did that, and he played the ninth inning at shortstop for Barry Larkin. He said he enjoyed it all, and let's hope he did. Because right after the game, the Reds sent Pokey Reese to Triple-A Indianapolis.

''We needed another outfielder,'' manager Ray Knight said, not meaning to be cold, but sounding that way nevertheless. ''It's hard to break camp with only four outfielders.''

Moment of a lifetime

It is possible to live a lifetime in a day. In sports, it happens all the time. Vicissitudes? On Tuesday, Pokey Reese crossed the Himalayas.

Someone asked him before the game, ''What compares to this for you?''

''The birth of my kids comes closest,'' he said.

Afterward, we asked him something else. ''Does this take away from the thrill of the day?''

''Oh, no,'' Reese said, with a smile he must have used to help him through other, more difficult times. ''I'll be all right. They gotta do what they gotta do. If someone goes down, I'll be the first one back up here. There's a lot of ups and downs in this game. Hopefully, I'll be back up.''

Knight said Reese would be, and it was a sweet thing the manager did, putting Pokey in the game for an inning, knowing it would be Reese's first, and last, for a while.

Still, what must this have been like?

Like spending an hour in the penthouse suite, before the hotel manager calls and says, ''Mr. Reese, there has been a mistake.''

Like boarding a plane to Fiji, then landing in Atlantic City because of mechanical problems.

Like getting the biggest rug you can find, rolling it across the slickest floor, standing on it and saying to your best friend, ''Pull it as hard as you can.''

Keeping perspective

Two days before the Reds left Florida, General Manager Jim Bowden said to Reese, ''Be prepared to go north.''

''I was trying to keep a calm face,'' Reese said, ''but I was blowing up inside.'' He called his mother and three siblings in Columbia, S.C. They had a party.

What does he tell them now? That these things happen? That he is good enough to make his demotion temporary? That baseball is a business? Oh, yeah. All of that.

''I'll be in Louisville Thursday,'' Reese said after the game.

That's where Indianapolis opens its season. Louisville. Thursday. From this, to that. Up here, to down there, just like that. What a life.

''He said if he had to go back to Triple-A, he would,'' Clara Reese said before the game. ''He's just a nice person.'' Pokey Reese said he had fun Tuesday, and no regrets. ''It was a great day,'' he said. ''No matter what.''

Call Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty at 768-8454.

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