In an indirect way, Reitz' prolonged fast start this season may be the result of his pregame basketball playing. "He's calmed down this year," Boyer says. "He's in the same mold as Pete Rose in that the adrenaline is always going, but he's not taking a hundred ground balls in practice like he used to." Instead, he's down in the stadium's disused handball court horsing around with teammates like Templeton, Pete Vuckovich and Steve Swisher. "I like the idea of all those people in the stands waiting for a baseball game, and me, down there, playing basketball," says Reitz. "It relaxes me."
Reitz' lack of foot speed is sort of a running joke with the Cardinals. A few winters ago the club asked UCLA Track Coach Jim Bush to try to quicken his pace. According to Reitz, Bush told him he could turn a raw 9.8 dash man into a 9.2 sprinter, but that Reitz was hopeless. "I'm like a station wagon at Indianapolis, but at least I know the direction to first," he says.
Slow as he is, Reitz has amazing lateral range as a fielder. And his glove and his arm are as steady as any third baseman's. The Cardinals can't understand why Mike Schmidt of the Phillies keeps winning Gold Gloves that they feel Reitz deserves. Schmidt even won in 1977 when Reitz set a record for fewest errors by a third baseman (nine). Oddly, his only Gold Glove came in 1975, when he made the most errors of his career, 23. "I was embarrassed to get it," says Reitz.
Reitz' interest in playing H-O-R-S-E may be derived from the days when he performed in rodeos on real horses. He gave that up when the Cardinals said they didn't like the idea of his being thrown. "I didn't much like being thrown off, either," he says. His horsing around also helped to foster the myth that he is of Indian heritage. Some players still claim Reitz is part Cherokee, and they call him " Crazy Horse." The fact of the matter is that Reitz is of German and Irish descent. He grew up in Daly City, Calif., not far from Candlestick Park, in a baseball family. His father played at Mission High School, a few years before Hernandez' dad, and his brother Roy was in the Giants' organization for a while. "At the dinner table, we used to slide into the soup," says Reitz. Signed at 18, Reitz made a rapid rise to the majors, thanks mainly to his fielding. At 28, he is already an eight-year veteran.
Reitz' fits of temper haven't kept him from developing a good-guy image. "He keeps everybody loose," says Hernandez. "You can't help but laugh around him." Reitz is also known for his generosity to relatives, teammates and the kids at St. James (Mo.) Boys Club. "Baseball's very important to him," says Cardinal Outfielder Dane Iorg, "but what he does goes beyond baseball. He's just a fine human being, and when you get down to it, that's the most important thing."
There you have it. Great heart, great glove, great bat. Well, at least for now.