'Swing as hard as you can'

With 223 strikeouts last year, Reynolds shattered his own major league record. Getty Images

This story appears in the April 19 issue of ESPN The Magazine.

Shortly after his sophomore year of high school, Mark Reynolds received a gift more precious to a teen than a pair of jeans, a video game system or a car. Puberty finally kicked in.

Reynolds had been so skinny that his teammates at First Colonial High in Virginia Beach called him Skeletor. His father, Greg, an accountant, used to research training techniques in the hopes of counterbalancing his son's lack of muscle. "When you're a little guy, you do what you can with what you've got," says Mark, who was a good line-drive hitter but no slugger.

One of many schemes he tried was swinging a bat with plastic fans on the barrel, to create wind resistance. He hoped the contraption would strengthen his wrists and forearms, making him as powerful as his teammates. No small feat, that: Reynolds grew up playing on travel teams with B.J. Upton, David Wright and Ryan Zimmerman, all of whom would become first-round picks and major league stars. To help the scrawny Reynolds compete, his high school coach gave him a piece of hitting advice that he follows to this day: "Swing as hard as you can."