Someday, perhaps, Greensboro Grasshoppers left fielder K.J. Woods will deliver a hit in the major leagues just as his hitting coach did in 1990.
Luis Quinones became a hero that year in Cincinnati and his native Puerto Rico with the hit the helped send the Reds to the World Series.
“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Quinones said.
As a utility infielder and pinch-hitter for the Cincinnati Reds in 1990, the 28-year old Quinones played in 83 regular-season games. In 183 plate appearances, Quinones had a mediocre average of .241. On the night of Oct. 12, in front of 40,000 Reds fan, Quinones was anything but mediocre. With the Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates tied 1-1, Reds manager Lou Piniella looked for Quinones on the bench in the top of the seventh inning.
“Lou told me ‘If the Pirates have a lefty in, you’re going to pinch hit for Paul O’Neill,’” Quinones recalled. “Most people wouldn’t have thought Lou would pinch hit O’Neill.”
Quinones went down the Riverfront Stadium dugout steps and walked to the batting cages to take some swings. When he re-emerged, Pirates lefty Zane Smith was still on the mound.
“If I told that I wasn’t nervous, I would be lying,” Quinones said. “When I got into the batters box my legs were shaking.”
For good reason. The Reds had runners on first and third with two outs. Making the moment that much more intense, Quinones worked a 3-2 count against Smith.
“He was either going to walk me or throw a ball over the plate,” Quinones said.
Smith threw it over the plate, Quinones kept his front closed and smacked an opposite field, line drive single between first and second base. He took just three steps out of the batters box, realized he delivered the go-ahead run and starting celebrating. As Ron Oester came around to score what became the game-winning run, Riverfront Stadium shook with excitement knowing that the Reds were six outs away from going to the World Series.
Norm Charlton and Randy Myers, two of the three Reds relievers known as The Nasty Boys, shut the door on Pirates in the eight and ninth inning respectively. The 2-1 Cincinnati victory sent the Reds to the World Series where they swept the favored Oakland A’s.
While holding his young daughter in his arms during a post game interview, Quinones told WCPO-TV that he was “the proudest guy in the world.”
Quinones started out his baseball career like Woods, not playing college ball.
The San Diego Padres scouted Puerto Rico and noticed Quinones playing amateur ball in the city of Ponce. Quinones signed in 1980 and was off to the U.S.. He’d been to America once before. Quinones and his grandmother went to New York City to visit his aunt when he was a child. His made minor-league stops in Grand Harbor, Mich.; Walla Walla, Wash.; Amarillo, Texas; and Salem, Va. They were nothing like New York and his hometown of Ponce.
He broke into the big leagues with the Oakland A’s in 1983 and spent most of his career as a utility player and pinch hitter. Since 2009, Quinones has been coaching minor-league hitters, like Woods.
“We watch film together all the time. He keeps reiterating that to me to keep my front closed,” Woods said. “I had a tendency to release the bat head and my hands would swing out. That would cause my hands to roll over. Every time I keep my front closed good things happen.”
Woods, the Miami Marlins’ fourth-round draft pick in 2013 out of Fort Mill (S.C.) High School, is hitting .276 going into Sunday’s South Atlantic League game against the Hickory Crawdads in close to 400 plate appearances. Prior to this year, Woods was getting to the plate 170 times a season. This year he has close to 400 plate appearance and is still hitting nearly 60 points higher than his three-year average.
“As a hitter I feel like I’ve matured a lot this year,” Woods said. “I have a better plan when I go to the plate. Looking back on last year I was too much of a free swinger. I didn’t have an approach. I was just swinging hard.”