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Original Issue

Making His Bones Hard-knocks rookie righthander Chris Reitsma breaks in big with the Reds

Reds rookie righthander Chris Reitsma is only 23, but if age
were measured in mishaps, he would be eligible for Social
Security. Reitsma has broken a collarbone twice, his right arm
three times, his right leg twice, two fingers and a toe. He
watched from a pitcher's mound as a friend died in leftfield. He
has played for three organizations in the past 14 months. Plus,
he nearly missed his first major league start because of food
poisoning. Still, Calamity Chris can't believe his good luck. "I
consider it a miracle," says Reitsma, who through Sunday was 2-1
with a 1.03 ERA in four starts, "that I can even throw."

On June 4, 1997, a year to the day after the Red Sox drafted him
out of high school in Calgary, Reitsma heard his right elbow
crack as he delivered a pitch for the Class A Michigan Battle
Cats. A fractured elbow is usually fatal to a pitcher's career,
but after surgery Reitsma returned the next April for a stint
with the Class A Sarasota Red Sox. He pitched 12 2/3 innings in
eight starts, hoping to build enough arm strength to mount a full
comeback the following spring. Even that workload was too much:
He left an outing in late May with a stress fracture in his
elbow. "I went from May to December without picking up a ball,"
he says. "I was thinking about not making another comeback."

He did return, however, and made it through a full season at
Sarasota that was shaky (4-10, 5.61) but injury-free. The Devil
Rays nonetheless were impressed enough to pluck Reitsma in the
December 1999 Rule V draft; he was one of Tampa Bay's final cuts
the next spring and, under Rule V, was shipped back to the Red
Sox. He went a combined 10-6 at two minor league levels last
season and then was dealt to the Reds in August when Boston
acquired slugger Dante Bichette. Reitsma won a starter's job this
spring, dazzling the Reds with his straight changeup and
curveball and with command and poise beyond his years. His
fastball tops out at around 91 mph, five mph slower than it was
before the elbow injuries. "After the second break I really
worked on a changeup," Reitsma says. "Those injuries may have
helped me become a better pitcher."

Reitsma was already an old hand at recuperation. A
rough-and-tumble boyhood in Calgary--"In childhood pictures I'm
always in a cast," he says--produced that litany of fractures.
(He first broke his right arm when a well-fed teammate sat on it
during high school football practice.) Reitsma also endured
tragedy. When he was 16, he was pitching in a tournament in
Ancaster, Ont., when lightning struck the field. Every player
was knocked down except Reitsma, who didn't feel the jolt
because he was standing on the pitching rubber. Reitsma's
leftfielder, a close friend, was killed. "That showed me God can
take us at any time," he says. "That had a lot to do with
building character."

That character was tested before his first big league start, on
April 4. The evening before, Reitsma ate a bad chicken sandwich
and spent that night and most of the next day suffering from food
poisoning. "My wife looked at me and said, 'You can't pitch
tonight,'" he says.

Reitsma took IV fluids after he arrived at Cinergy Field and then
pitched six innings against the Pirates, allowing two runs on
three hits, while striking out four and walking one. The
performance shouldn't have surprised anyone. He'd been through

--Stephen Cannella