Ex-Padre McReynolds Savors Playing in Big Apple

Times Staff Writer

Kevin ("Thank God I'm a Country Boy") McReynolds now is thankful that he's not a Padre. Traded this winter to the World Series champion Mets, McReynolds says New York kind of reminds him of his home in Arkansas.

But then, he lives in the suburbs.

"I'm up in Port Washington, about 20 minutes from here," McReynolds was saying the other day. "It's all country up there."

Other than that, his wife--Jackie--is taking riding lessons, and his three dogs--Dustin, Ruffles and Mercedes--have room to roam. His favorite New York restaurant is his local Pizza Hut, and he hasn't seen a Broadway show yet because he says there hasn't been time.

Also, he finally got rid of his mustache that never seemed to grow, and he is scheduled to make a guest appearance soon on his wife's favorite soap opera, "All My Children."

He used to have a starring role in the Padres' soap opera. McReynolds led the team with 26 home runs and 96 RBIs last season. Though he did leave a gap in the Padre lineup, he did not leave behind many friends.

He said he did not make one phone call to any of his former teammates during the winter, unless you count a call that McReynolds' agent, Tom Selakovich, made to Tony Gwynn in February. Gwynn was asked if he would help McReynolds' arbitration case by testifying that McReynolds was underpaid. Gwynn said no and has seethed about it ever since.

McReynolds, who on Monday played his first game against against the Padres, called Gwynn one of his closest pals in baseball, but Gwynn laughed sarcastically when that news reached him. The little things, like one time when Gwynn felt as if he had been hustled by McReynolds at a golf game, have stuck with Gwynn.

By the way, McReynolds didn't exactly run up and hug his former general manager, Jack McKeon, on Monday. Actually, they seemed to avoid each other. There have been a few mixups to fuel the uneasiness in their relationship.

Just after last season, McReynolds borrowed one of his Padre uniforms and a Padre duffel bag for a benefit he was planning to do in Arkansas. When the trade with the Mets was made, the Padres sent a letter to McReynolds asking him to send back the duffel bag or pay about $30 to keep it. They let him have the uniform for free.

The letter was signed by McKeon.

There were other sore points too. McReynolds wanted to take several Padre bats home with him this winter so he could work out, but the Padre equipment man wouldn't let him. Also, McReynolds expected the Padres to pay his way to Arkansas this winter because, under major league rules, a team must pay for its players' trips home after the season. The Padres didn't do so because McReynolds listed San Diego--not Arkansas--as his home address. When McReynolds protested, McKeon decided to give him $500 for the flight.

That is why McReynolds is miffed at McKeon, who drafted him in the first round of the June 1981 draft.

Soon after the Met trade, McReynolds wrote a letter to McKeon telling him exactly what he thought of McKeon if McKeon was "behind all this."

Monday, McReynolds said: "We (he and McKeon) aren't as close as we once were. I thought I was pretty close to Jack until the final few months of my tenure there. . . . I never had the feeling I was appreciated there in San Diego. What I really think is they expected me to have years like I did in the minor leagues every year in the big leagues."

McKeon said: "I don't think my relationship with him has changed. I like the guy. I don't have any ill feelings toward him. But I guess his relationship toward me changed. You know why? Because I traded him. But it wasn't anything personal. Gene Walter (also traded to the Mets) thanked me for what we did for him in San Diego. He came over and shook hands with me here."

McReynolds says the Mets' front office is 10 times better than the Padres'. He said the public relations department does a good job of shielding him from interviews, and it helps that he's a favorite of Manager Davey Johnson. McReynolds is now the Mets' cleanup man. He is hitting .288 with 6 homers and 18 RBIs, and he feels that the Mets have taken the pressure off him. Besides, first baseman Keith Hernandez says McReynolds is the best left fielder they have ever had.

"If I could've written a script, it couldn't have been better than this," Selakovich said of McReynolds Tuesday. "Just everything is great, the personal things. His marriage is better. . . . Outside of the drive (the commute from Port Washington to Shea Stadium), I think he's really found New York to be a neat place."

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