Remembering Reich: The soldier, pitcher, and leader with a lasting legacy

Duty, honor, country.

While the words of West Point’s motto have echoed through the heads of cadets for over 125 years, Major Steven Reich lived them — both while on the mound for USA Baseball and in the cockpit of a helicopter for the United States Army.

A fierce competitor, a selfless leader, and a loyal serviceman, Reich graduated from West Point in 1993, the same year he pitched for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. Picked by his team to carry the American flag when walking out for national team games, the Army graduate left a lasting impression on those around him during his time on the team, including his manager, now-Minnesota head coach John Anderson.

“He was selfless, a leader, compassionate, driven, internally motivated, he was a critical thinker, he was always able to see the bigger picture — not just himself,” Anderson said. “So selfless — always interested in helping others and making the team and the organization and the world a better place and he always had that quality about him.”

That impression, though, later turned into a legacy.

Twelve years after his time with Team USA, Reich made the ultimate sacrifice while leading a rescue mission during Operation Enduring Freedom for the Army. Reich was 34 when he and 15 other soldiers were shot down in their helicopter by enemy fire in Eastern Afghanistan.

Anderson and those around him described Reich as selfless, driven, and passionate. Above all else, Reich was a leader, so much so that although saddened, Anderson was not shocked when he learned his former player died for his nation while leading a rescue mission.

“So I wasn't surprised because he always cared about others and put others ahead of himself — he’s a selfless person,” Anderson said. “That part didn’t surprise me, but I was very, very saddened to learn of his passing. We lost a tremendous human being, a person that I think was willing to serve our country for the rest of us and our freedoms and democracies.”

The Connecticut-born lefty passed on a lasting legacy with his sacrifice, one of dedication to his country and unwavering leadership, no matter the type of uniform he was wearing.

“I think he led by example because he was a hard worker, he was committed, he had integrity,” Anderson said. “You can't be a strong leader, you can’t impact change, you can’t impact others unless you have great integrity, because you walk the talk every single day. You can’t do that unless your actions match your words, and he was one of those people who did that obviously very consistently.”

While he was always passionate about serving his country, Reich was determined to carve out a career as a pitcher. Reich pitched 36.3 innings in 17 games in the summer of 1993 while sporting a 2.48 ERA and flaming 38 strikeouts.

Reich’s name is also dotted across the record books at West Point. While his name is still revered at the academy for his intangible qualities and strength of character, the pitcher holds the program record for most career strikeouts with 259 and flamed a whopping 17 K’s against Air Force in his final collegiate game. He also sported an undefeated 6-0 record in service academy games.

Once he graduated and finished leading Team USA to a 30-16 record, Reich played in the Orioles’ farm system. According to his parents, Reich loved baseball and adored the intensity of pitching. He also despised defeat.

“He hated to lose,” said his father, Ray Reich. “He knew that playing baseball, when you're a pitcher, there's far more pressure on the pitcher than other players on the team. But he always was very determined.”

But soon enough, Reich was called back into the line of service for the Army in 1996. Anderson said that he unselfishly accepted the call, citing Reich’s strong desire to protect his country.

“It speaks volumes to who he is and the risks he was willing to take because he felt like that to make the world a better place or even serve his country in a way that would make the world a better place, then that’s what he wanted to do,” Anderson said. “You’ve got to be a selfless person to take on that challenge and do it voluntarily … he was willing to take that risk.”

Reich was once again abroad representing his nation, now protecting it rather than playing for it.

However, he still couldn’t stand to leave baseball behind — Reich’s parents recalled him requesting to be deployed abroad to be away from the game. However, once stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany, Reich soon found himself as the coach and manager of a local, small-time baseball team.

Reich’s love for the game was undeniable, and once Reich passed, USA Baseball Executive Director/CEO Paul Seiler knew he had to act quickly to honor his legacy.

“So when the opportunity, or the thought, or the conversation around honoring Stephen’s sacrifice, his commitment — I don’t use the word lightly — legacy, kind of came into focus, we really chased that very quickly and aggressively to make sure that we honored him and what he did for our country and others like him,” Seiler said.

Reich’s number 20 was retired in June of 2006. Only the third number to be retired by USA Baseball, his name and number are forever enshrined in the history of both the organization and baseball. While it’s in direct remembrance of Reich, Seiler said that the retired number is a reminder of the broader appreciation of what the military does to protect our freedoms everyday.

Reich embodied the qualities of selflessness, commitment, and leadership. His impact stretched from those in his hometown, to his teammates on the 1993 National Team, to current Army baseball players taking the field in his honor. He also has multiple awards named after him, and Reich’s parents still hear how much their son touched others’ lives.

“People reach out to us constantly — people that he served with, people that he played baseball with, and people that he went to school with, and I feel blessed to have that when they contact us,” said his mother, Sue Reich. “It's really great and it's very humbling when they choose to honor Stephen with their play, or their words, or an award.”

From wearing the red, white, and blue, to protecting it, Reich’s legacy is uniquely and fittingly intertwined with both USA Baseball and his service in the Army.

“Honor the sport, honor the country,” Seiler said. “When we put that uniform on, we’re honoring all of the United States of America and we're honoring the sport of baseball. When you look at Stephen, he did that as a national team player, and then ultimately, he took those basic responsibilities that we have here and he upped it to a place where none of us I think can really understand how to get there in terms of sacrificing his life for the nation that he loves so much. We're proud to call him an alum.”

The ultimate embodiment of both organization's values, Reich defined the motto of duty, honor, country — no matter what uniform he wore.