Reynolds, ex-Arkansas baseball standout, taking his talent to Japan

After spending the past 11 seasons playing professional baseball in the United States, former Arkansas All-SEC infielder Matt Reynolds is taking his talent overseas.

The 33-year-old Reynolds signed a one-year contract with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of the Nippon Professional Baseball League in November. He will head to Japan in about three weeks to begin workouts with his new club.

A dual-sport standout at Tulsa’s Bishop-Kelley High school, Reynolds spurned a few college basketball offers to play baseball for the Razorbacks from 2010-12. In his three seasons at Arkansas, he started 141 games and hit .275 with 72 RBI. He was also a part of the 2012 College World Series team that advanced to the national semifinals.

“Playing at Arkansas was huge for my career, and definitely prepared me for the higher levels of pro ball,” Reynolds said. “Getting to play in front of 12,000 fans on the weekend is probably one of my favorite experiences in my baseball career.

“Once you get into pro ball, it’s just a different animal and you really begin to realize how much you miss playing in the college game. The pros has the business side of things that you don’t have to deal with in college. In college, I could go 0-for-4, but if we won, I was pumped. In pro ball it’s just different, with the pressure of performing, so you can hopefully get called up.”

Obviously, playing in the College World Series is one of the highlights of his collegiate career, but he can still recall a number of special moments while playing in Fayetteville, that will forever be etched in his mind.

He vividly recalls James McCann’s three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth in 2011 that gave the No. 22 Razorbacks a 4-3 win over the No. 15 Tigers in front of an all-time record crowd at Baum Stadium.

“It feels like that just happened yesterday,” Reynolds said with a chuckle.

Then there was Collin Kuhn’s two-out grand slam in 2010 to give Arkansas a 17-16 win over Kentucky in an epic game on Easter Sunday. Kuhn’s mother, who was battling cancer, was in the stands after traveling from Wisconsin to watch him play.

“God was definitely looking over him in that situation, and I will never forget that moment,” Reynolds said. “Just so many special memories.”

Reynolds was drafted by the New York Mets in the second round of the 2012 Major League Baseball draft – the 71st overall selection. He made his professional debut that season for the Savannah Sand Gnats of the A-level South Atlantic League.

As he progressed through the minor leagues, he spent the 2015 regular season playing for New York’s Triple-A affiliate, the Las Vegas 51’s. He was then called up to join the Mets for their playoff run. He instantly made history, becoming the first player in the modern baseball era to be added to a postseason roster in the middle of a series without having any previous major-league experience. He also became the third player in modern baseball history to be included on a postseason roster without previous major-league experience.

“At that time I didn’t realize how special it really was,” said Reynolds, who was on the Mets’ roster when they defeated the Dodgers in the NL Divisional Series and when they beat the Cubs for the National League pennant. He was also in the Mets’ dugout for their heart-breaking loss to Kansas City in the 2015 World Series.

“Not many people get to experience a World Series in their career, and I got to experience one in my first days in the Big Leagues,” he said. “Now, when I look back it’s like, ‘Wow, what a ride.’ Getting to be a part of the World Series in college and in the pros, that was really special.”

Reynolds has accrued three years on of total service time at the Major League level, spending two stints with the Mets (2016-17 and 2022), as well as time with Washington (2018), Kansas City (2020) and Cincinnati (2022-23).

“I feel like I got a fair shot at the Big Leagues, and got plenty of opportunities, but it is what it is,” he said. “Early on I was kind of thrown into one of the toughest roles in baseball, which was primarily pinch-hitting and getting a spot-start once every seven or eight days. In that position, you don’t get very many at-bats, and when you do get an at-bat, you are facing their eighth- or ninth-inning guy, and getting nasty stuff.”

After putting up solid numbers for the Triple-A Louisville Bats last season, Reynolds began drawing interest from a few Japanese teams, with one team offering to purchase his contract from the Reds during the season. Cincinnati declined the offer, so after making only two brief appearances with the Reds, he finished out the year with Louisville and became a free agent.

“After I finished the year at Triple-A, I told my agent that I was really interested in pursuing something overseas, either Korea or Japan,” he said. “The first day I became a free agent, Hiroshima offered me. So after we negotiated for a few days, I decided to sign with them. It was a really cool opportunity for me.

“I think it’s just adds another layer to my career. The writing was kind of on the wall over here. It felt like I needed to try somewhere else to make some money and provide for my family. I got this opportunity and it was something that I just couldn’t pass up.”

Now residing in the Dallas area, he and his wife – former Razorback soccer player Sam Wolf – now have a 2-year-old son, Grady, and a 1-month-old daughter, Hallie.

Reynolds has no regrets for how his career has turned out, thus far, and isn’t sure how much longer he will play. He wants to continue playing as long as the game is still enjoyable.

“I’m just trying to enjoy my last few years – play hard, work hard and just enjoy it as much as I can,” he said, “And also set a good example for my son. He is just starting to understand what I’m doing, and now having him at the field, and I can see him in the stands, it’s just a feeling I’ve never had.”

Jun 22, 2012; Omaha, NE, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks third baseman Matt Reynolds (5) steals second base ahead of the tag by South Carolina Gamecoks short stop Joey Pankake (9) during the first inning during game thirteen of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Matt Ryerson-USA TODAY Sports

Story originally appeared on Razorbacks Wire