In spring training Reds leftfielder Chris Stynes was asked to describe his style of play. "Pissed off," he said. Soft-spoken and pleasant off the field, Stynes on the field does bring to mind someone who has a chip on his shoulder—and that suits his boss just fine. "He's a gamer," says manager Jack McKeon, who usually finds a way to work the phrase "How about that Stynesie?" into his postgame remarks. "He doesn't say much, just goes out and does his job. Just a blue-collar worker."
Perhaps Stynes's rough-and-tumble proclivities can be attributed to genetics. He has a cousin, Jim Stynes, who plays for Melbourne of the Australian Rules Football League, and his grandfather, Joe Stynes, played Irish Rules football. (Stynes, 25, shows his Irish with a tattoo of a pugilistic leprechaun on his thigh.)
Whatever the reason, when he steps on the field, Stynes knows only one speed—full. Against the Rockies at Coors Field on April 11, he made one of the season's most spectacular catches, chasing down a Todd Helton pop-up while falling into the lap of a front-row patron. Also, in three games against Colorado that week, Stynes went a combined 10 for 16, including game-opening home runs off Rockies ace Darryl Kile and, two days later, Pedro Astacio.
Originally drafted by the Blue Jays in 1991, Stynes was traded to the Royals as part of an April '95 deal that brought David Cone to Toronto. In '95 and '96 he was called up six times, with his longest stretch being 30 games. "It was a bit frustrating," Stynes says. "The hardest part was having to live in a hotel room, home and away."
Stynes finally found a real home last July, when McKeon suggested to Reds general manager Jim Bowden that he ask the Royals for Stynes as a throw-in on a trade that sent righthander Hector Carrasco to Kansas City for outfielder Jon Nunnally.
After a brief stint in Triple A, Stynes was called up to Cincinnati in August and went 7 for 7 in his first two games. He started the last 49 games of the season—38 in left, eight at second base and three at third—and the previously woeful Reds went 28-21.
"The biggest plus for me was getting traded to the National League," says Stynes. "I play several different positions, and over in the American League [because of the DH], you don't need as many guys who do that."
Stynes can also fill a variety of spots in the batting order. During most of his minor league career he hit second. Injuries last year forced McKeon to use Stynes, generously listed at 5'10", in the three hole. He hit .348 with six homers and 28 RBIs in less than a third of a season. This year McKeon needed someone to take Deion Sanders's place at leadoff. At week's end Stynes had stolen nine bases and scored 18 runs in 22 games. His .343 average since last year's All-Star break is third in the majors to Mike Piazza's .354 and Dante Bichette's .346. "Stynesie was a big catalyst last year," says McKeon, "and he hasn't stopped."