Bassett graduate Jonah McReynolds a homegrown Ranger

By CARA COOPER

On Saturday afternoon, while friends and family members sat in Jonah McReynolds’s living room watching the Major League Baseball draft on TV, McReynolds was in the other room on the phone.

One-by-one, scouts from as many as seven different teams called and texted McReynolds to keep him updated on their plans for the day.

After texting with a couple of teams that assured him they were going to choose the Patrick Henry Community College shortstop in the next round, McReynolds said he heard everyone gathered in his living room start cheering.

On the TV, it was announced that with their 13th round pick in the Major League Baseball first year players draft, the Texas Rangers chose Bassett graduate Jonah McReynolds.

Less than a minute later McReynolds got the call.

“It was kind of crazy,” McReynolds said. “I was texting back and forth with a couple other teams, not even the Rangers, like ‘hey we’re going to take you in this round’… Then the Texas Rangers just came out of nowhere. I didn’t even get the phone call until after I got drafted. I heard it on the TV and everyone was cheering and I was like ‘what just happened?”… And literally I get a phone call like 30 seconds after they called my name, and that was pretty cool.”

Saturday was not only historic for McReynolds, but for Henry County baseball.

He is just the third Bassett graduate and the second Patrick Henry Community College graduate to be drafted in the MLB first year players draft. He is the highest draft pick in PHCC history.

It’s not hard to believe in McReynolds’ draft potential. The 5-foot-11-inch sophomore hit .326 this year with 54 RBIs and 51 runs scored in 59 games for PHCC. He also had an .870 fielding percentage in 148 attempts at shortstop for the Patriots.

Last fall McReynolds attended several pre-draft camps and in November was named No. 57 on the list of top 100 junior college prospects.

The ranking got scouts from all over MLB talking.

“Obviously you see things, the tools, the arm strength, the defensive capabilities, the bat but it’s all about him going out and performing and doing it right now,” said PHCC head baseball coach Frank Jagoda. “A lot of people took notice. We played 60 games this spring, and in 59 of those games pro scouts were there to watch him play and other guys on the team play. That doesn’t happen by accident. That was proven by his play on the field.”

McReynolds said constantly being watched took some time to get used to.

“I felt the pressure,” he said. “They videotape you walking out of the locker room to the dugout and everything. If they’re going to invest money in you they want to know everything about you.”

Even though he met with more than half a dozen professional teams, McReynolds said secretly the Rangers were always near the top of his list.

“I went to a pre-draft camp for the Texas Rangers and I got to know the staff really well. Actually that was one of my favorite organizations I visited and I’m really, really glad to be a part of that organization,” he said.

Baseball has always been in McReynolds’ blood, and he’s been around the fields since he was in diapers.

His father was the late Ronald Matthews, a legendary PONY league coach in Henry County for 35 years until his death in 2011.

“He was probably the most influential person in my life,” McReynolds said of his father.

A 2011 Martinsville Bulletin article makes mention of McReynolds’ awe-inspiring glove at shortstop to others around Henry County when he was as young as six years old.

But it wasn’t always easy on the field for McReynolds.

Starting out at Patrick Henry during his freshman year, he was fourth on the shortstop depth chart, and didn’t play until 20 games into the season. McReynolds said he considered hanging up his cleats for good, but instead decided to face the test head on.

“I was really thinking about quitting but I stuck with it and I worked harder. Me not playing well and me not playing made me work harder to go after what I wanted,” he said.

“He came in and like every young player he certainly had a lot to learn. He would admit that from a baseball sense,” said former PHCC and current Washington & Lee head coach Lucas Jones. “His tools were there, he had the arm and speed right off the bat but needed to fine tune some things offensively and learn the game a little more. He’s a product of hard work and his story is pretty incredible to get to this point. From day one there was never a sense he wasn’t going to work. Just over the course of 2 years at PH he just developed and put himself in position to be a draft pick.”

Jagoda, who just finished his first year coaching at PHCC, said McReynolds proved both on and off the field why the Rangers made a good choice in their 13th round pick.

“The on the field stuff speaks for itself. His ability to put himself into this position, he’s turned some heads on the field with the things he did over the last two years. Some of them are unprecedented,” Jagoda said. “But the off the field stuff is more impressive. He would come to work every single day to put in his time. To get himself into this position for himself and his teammates is remarkable. His life story is truly something special.”

“When I got here in the fall, I kind of knew what I was getting myself into with the team coming in. From the very beginning I could see some things,” Jagoda added. “It’s all on Jonah. He went out and showed it on the field. He showed why he was good draft pick.”

Jones said he always saw a glimmer in McReynolds that proved he was capable of playing baseball professionally.

“I knew off the bat his arm is a pro arm throwing across the diamond. Even though he’s not a pitcher, off the mound he’s 88 to 91, pretty raw. I know from a pro standpoint you look at him and say you’ve got some tools to compete at that level,” Jones said. “He’s young too so there’s still room to grow. Hopefully with the organization he’ll be able to do that. There was always that sense the tools were there just what was he going to do with those tools… and he took those and built on them. That’s all him, he did that.”

McReynolds credits Jones and Jagoda, as well as PHCC associate head coach Casey Hodges with helping instill the love of baseball back in him after so many struggles early on. Jones, he said, convinced him to keep working and gave him the eye opener he needed to see what it took to be a college baseball player.

“All the stuff I’ve been through with the game of baseball has slowly prepared me for what I’m going to get into,” McReynolds said. “I know I’m not fully prepared mentally but that’s where growth comes. You’ve got to have a growth mindset in anything you do. I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. There’s going to be obstacles. There’ll be games where you’re going to go in a 28-game streak… and you may be in a slump but you’ve got to trust the process. You’ve got to trust what the organization is giving you. You’ve got to become a student of the game.”

The next step for McReynolds will begin as early as today when he makes the trip out to the Rangers’ facility in Arizona to begin rookie ball.

But Henry County will always be home to the talent who worked his way up from Bassett to Post 42 to Patrick Henry Community College and the Piedmont All-Stars.

“He kind of represents Martinsville,” Jones said. “He’s kind of blue collar. He stayed home to play and worked hard and is now getting his chance.”

“Even in high school baseball I never thought I would ever get the chance to play professional baseball,” McReynolds said. “I’m thankful for this opportunity. I know a lot of people are rooting for me and I’m going to try to give it my all… For those kids out there, I’m just going to try to do it for the kids to give them hope that it can happen to any one of us if you buy into the process and really believe what your coach and everybody is telling you.”

As seen first at The Martinsville Bulletin

Former Bulletin reporter Waid receives prestigious NASCAR Hall prize

By CARA COOPER

Steve Waid never had any grand aspirations of being a NASCAR writer. In fact, when he was assigned to cover an event at Martinsville Speedway in 1970, he had never even been to a race.

“I had heard of Richard Petty and I had heard of Cale Yarborough and that was about it,” Waid said by phone Saturday.

Waid wasn’t even supposed to work for the Martinsville Bulletin. He came to Martinsville, the hometown of his now wife Margaret Bouldin, in the summer of 1970 after graduating from Old Dominion University. He was scheduled to leave for marine boot camp six months later, so Margaret’s father was going to get him a job at the American Furniture Company that he could work until he left.

But as he was driving into town, Waid said he passed by the Martinsville Bulletin office. Given his previous work as sports editor of the ODU newspaper, he decided to stop in to see if the paper was hiring sports writers.

“Here I am wearing a t-shirt and jeans, and I walk in and the first person I meet is the managing editor,” Waid said. “And I said, ‘Do you need a sports writer?’ and he said, ‘Yes we do, come on here in the back.’ So I took a spelling test and a current events test and got the job.

“It took about 30 minutes.”

Thirty minutes turned into a nearly 50 year career in sports reporting that culminated this week when it was announced Friday Waid is the newest recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence. The award comes with an exhibit in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina, and a special recognition at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony next January.

RACING BEGINNINGS

Waid worked for the Bulletin for nearly two years, covering high school sports, Ferrum College athletics and NASCAR. College basketball was the biggest sport at ODU at the time, and that’s what Waid had hoped to cover when he began at the newspaper.

But given the paper’s proximity to Martinsville Speedway, his editor had other plans for him.

“Martinsville Speedway was a very, very important thing. And I was told I was going to cover it. I didn’t know anything about racing,” he said.

The first race he covered, Waid said he was “scared to death.” Sitting in the press box, he would bombard his seatmates with questions.

“It still was somewhat difficult for me to get a handle on what was going on,” he said. “One guy would lead the race and then the next lap another guy would lead the race. And I’d ask the guy next to me, what happened and he said, ‘The leader pitted, you fool!’

“There was a bunch to keep up with and I asked a lot of dumb questions, there no question about that.”

While the learning experience took time, Waid found an advocate in the Martinsville Speedway Public Relations Director at the time, Dick Thompson. Thompson knew the importance of local coverage of his racetrack, and knew the local writer had to know about racing. Thompson took Waid under his wing, showing him around the pits and introducing him to drivers.

“So with his guidance I was able to write my first story,” Waid said. “And I thought it was pretty good.”

Waid and Thompson’s friendship continued and grew beyond Waid’s time at the Bulletin, and Waid credits the late NASCAR media pioneer with helping him get his start in the sport.

For nearly two years Waid worked for the Martinsville Bulletin while also serving his time in the military. It was late 1971 when the Roanoke Times & World News asked him to come interview for a sports position. Roanoke covered Virginia Tech and the University of Virginia, giving Waid the chance to cover college basketball like he had wanted.

His first assignment was another unexpected one covering the Virginia Squires, an ABA team that played its home games in both Roanoke and Richmond.

“I thought, ‘here I go again into something I know very little about,’” Waid said. “I didn’t know anything about the ABA, never seen them play. They were pros. So I went up to the Roanoke Coliseum, saw the game and, this will date me a little bit, but the ABA team, the Squires, had a hot shot rookie by the name of Julius Irving.”

That same week, Waid covered a UVA basketball game, and fell in love with his new position at his new paper. Not only did he cover college basketball, but he also got to cover a college football game for the first time (ODU didn’t have a football team from 1941-2009).

Roanoke, however, brought Waid in to lead their NASCAR coverage, which he did for nearly a decade. His first race he covered was in “the big city of Atlanta.”

Waid initially had hopes of going to law school, and was accepted at a school in Baltimore, but turned it down because he fell in love with sports writing so much.

“After that first three days in Roanoke I knew what I wanted to do,” he said. “So I called Baltimore and said forget it. I’ve been chasing racecars ever since.”

FALLING IN LOVE WITH THE SPORT

While Waid may not have known much about racing when he first started covering it, he quickly learned how awe-inspiring seeing racecars compete in person really is.

“Personally it was a thrill to see cars going at the speeds they were going at. Faster and faster and faster,” he said. “I always told people you have to go to a race to appreciate the speed and the sound and the smell. Even if you don’t know anything about racing, just go.”

Waid’s first interview with a NASCAR driver was with the late Earl Brooks, a Lynchburg native who racked up 37 top 10 finishes in 262 career Cup Series races.

Their first conversation lasted more than an hour.

“He told me all kinds of stories about his days as a young man driving racecars and why racecars are built the way they are,” he said. “Basically that was terrific information for me and I got to thinking ‘this guy doesn’t know me at all, except he knows that I’m a rookie.’

“That’s the kind of experience you have with race drivers and I had over the years. It didn’t change until technology took over. You cannot really get that kind of accommodations today because they have so much to do.”

It was that experience with Brooks, and with nearly every driver he met thereafter, that made the biggest mark on Waid. What ultimately kept him coming back to each race was the people he met.

“I’ve found that racing drivers are the most accessible professional athletes there are,” he said. “They have no airs, there’s very little they won’t do for you. It’s easy to get a story from a race driver, very easy. They’re very accommodating and they always were, even for a rookie like me down there.”

Since leaving the Roanoke Times in 1981, Waid wrote for Grand National Scene, a weekly NASCAR publication, and he later became publisher of NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated monthly magazine. He remained with the magazine until his retirement in 2010. He served for 12 years as president of the National Motorsports Press Association, and also co-authored a biography on NASCAR Hall of Famer Junior Johnson.

Technology has obviously been the biggest change Waid has seen in his 48 year reporting career. Back then people would have to wait until the paper came out the next day for a full report on the races.

That technology has made the jobs fewer too, especially at newspapers where he got his start.

“Southern newspapers, southeast newspapers back in the day had racing writers. Every one had racing writers from Richmond to Daytona Beach,” he said. “Now, none of them have racing writers, and that’s all due to technology.”

But, while the way the sport is covered has changed, with media centers that bring drivers in to reporters, and immediate information at readers’ fingertips, the people in the sport haven’t.

“It’s still good. To me, they are still the best and most accommodating athletes,” he said. “They can’t do as much as they used to but they still are. And for me it made it fun. I enjoyed the sport itself. I enjoyed the competition but I can honestly say the thing I’ve enjoyed the most over the years has been the people.”

THE SQUIER-HALL AWARD

NASCAR created the Squier-Hall award in 2013 “to honor the contributions of media to the success of the sport.” The award is named for broadcasters radio broadcasters Ken Squier and Barney Hall. Waid said the honor is obviously the most significant accomplishment of his career.

“It means a lot. I’m very honored and I’m very humbled to receive this award because, to me, it doesn’t make me anything special but it makes me very appreciative because this award means to me that people took notes and they appreciated what I did. And that means a great deal,” he said.

While he’s won other awards in the past, Waid called the Squier-Hall “the highest one that can be bestowed upon you.”

It doesn’t mean he has plans to stop covering races though. Waid said he will be at Martinsville again this fall. He goes to about 10 races a year writing columns for the website PopularSpeed.com.

Not being in the trenches and filing deadline stories has, however, changed the way he attends races now, giving him more time to enjoy the atmosphere and catch up with his friends he’s made along the way.

“I enjoy just talking to people in the sport and knowing that I don’t have to really report on what they do,” he said. “I love doing that. But having the ability to just go and chat with Richard Petty about anything, politics, the whole nine, that’s great. It’s great to have a chance to do something like that. I do still participate in the sport but having the chance to do it the way I do it and more or less socialize with people instead of having to go and work, that’s a good feeling.”

The thrill of watching the cars speed by is something that Waid still loves more than anything. He suggest giving it a try. Who knows, others may find a love like he did that could carry them into a lifelong career.

“What I suggest you do is go down to the front grandstand and get as close to the flagstand as you can and stand there when the cars come roaring by,” he said. “It is an incredible experience. The rush of the wind, the roar of the cars and everything. It’s something you can’t experience watching on TV.”

This story first appeared in The Martinsville Bulletin.