Former major leaguer has called Elizabethton home for more than three decades

Jeff Birchfield • Dec 23, 2017 at 5:17 PM

Jeff Reed played Major League Baseball for six teams over 17 seasons. He’s lived in Elizabethton over twice that long.

In fact, the Joilet, Ill., native, who grew up as a White Sox fan but ended his major league career with the Cubs, has lived in Elizabethton since 1984. He first came to the area as a first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins and the 12th pick overall in the 1980 MLB draft. But, it was the love of a woman which triggered him to call Elizabethton home.

In the first of a two-part interview, the 55-year-old Reed talks about the area, what he’s doing now and his journey to get to the major leagues.

When did you first move to Elizabethton?

Reed: “I met my wife when I was in rookie ball in 1980. My wife’s father was Don Marshall, who trained “Big” John Tate, the heavyweight champion of the world. He also trained Bernard Taylor, who was ranked No. 3 in the world, when he fought Roberto Duran. Don was a boxing trainer, but he also worked that year with Ray Smith and the Twins.

“My wife and I got married in ’84. I moved back here and have lived here ever since. I loved the area and you won’t meet nicer people than the people around here. It was a great place to train because there wasn’t a beach or something to pull me away from my training. And there’s not a better place to raise kids.”

What are you doing today besides your job as batting coach for the Elizabethton Twins?

Reed: “I give lessons and help out at Milligan College a little bit. I like to watch a little ETSU baseball, catch 6-7 of their games at home and I will try to go catch a few Walters State games because when their coach Dave Shelton was in college, I would work out with him at the Dome. Doing all that and working around my home, it keeps me busy.

“My first year with the Elizabethton Twins was 2002 and it’s now been 15 years. The time goes by fast, but I love that job. It’s really neat to work with the new guys like that.”

Your coaching is different than most baseball guys, who go by the percentages and play it safe. Why have you always been so aggressive, especially with the base running.

Reed: “(Elizabethton manager) Ray Smith likes that and that’s the way to teach young guys. You have to turn them loose. The only way they’re going to learn is when they make mistakes. Sometimes, we might be too aggressive, but guys like to run the bases. That’s when the game is fun. You push it a little and sometimes you force the other team to make errors. It snowballs from there.”

When did you first know that you loved the game of baseball?

Reed: “I played basketball, football and baseball and I loved all three sports, but basketball was my favorite. When I was a junior, I could see that baseball was going to be my sport so I concentrated on it full time. When I was a senior, I thought I’ve really got a shot at this. A big reason was my older brother Curt got drafted by the Padres. That motivated me and pushed me a little more.”

You have said the minor leagues are so different for the modern player. How tough was it when you came up?

Reed: “That first year we go to camp, I remember flying into Melbourne, Fla., in June and it was smoking hot right off the airplane. Then, the Twins’ spring training back then was at an airport. I got into my room and there are four cots in there. It was so small, so bundled up. Back then, the minor leagues weren’t very comfortable. I remember in Wisconsin Rapids if you were taking a shower after the game and someone went to the bathroom and flushed, you got scalded with hot water.”

Still, you’ve said some of your best memories came in the minors. Why was that?

Reed: “When I was in Visalia, Calif., in A-ball, Phil Roof was my manager and he was an old-time catcher, who caught 15 years in the big leagues. He took me under his wings and playing for him two years really helped my game. Then in Double-A, I got moved up to Orlando. We played the championship against Nashville, which was a Yankees club.

“We play the first two games in Orlando, and then we take a 13-14 hour bus ride and George (Steinbrenner) got them a nice jet and they flew. But after busing all night and all morning, we get to the park at 4 p.m. and we’ve got a game at seven. But, we ended up sweeping the Yankees (Sounds) and that was a memory. They were loaded with guys like Steve (Bye Bye) Balboni, Willie McGee and Buck Showalter. But, we had Frankie Viola, Gary Gaetti and Tim Teufel. We were loaded too.”

What is the moment like when you’re called up to the show?

Reed: “I remember I was in Toledo and Cal Ermer was our manager. He had managed about 40 years and he called me in and said, ‘We’re bumping you up.’ There is nothing like that. The problem was the year I got called up. It was because of an injury to another catcher. When he got better, they sent me back down. But, that happened three times where I went up and down. That can be tough on your wife.”

What’s it like for a coach to see your players make it all the way up?

Reed: “Last year was special because (Mitch) Garver catches and they brought him up at the end of the year and if (Eduardo) Escobar doesn’t play, all nine guys came through our place. That’s when you can’t wait to watch them play. That makes it fun. Now to see how far they’ve come, it’s amazing to see them. We remember them like 17 years old and now you see them mature, bigger, stronger, faster. It’s such a great feeling when you see them playing at that level.”

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