Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Joey's Soapbox: My Connection To Jose Reyes

Greetings, Mets fans.  This is Joey Beartran reporting, although I have to say that I am too distraught to get up on my soapbox today.  As you already know, Jose Reyes has traded in his orange and blue duds for a Miami Marlins' Skittles-colored jersey.  It's a day I never expected to see, and one that I'm having a tough time accepting.

It's not because I'm upset that Reyes remained in the NL East, where the Mets will see him for 18 games per season.  It's also not because the Mets lost their leadoff hitter and shortstop, replacing him at those positions with Angel Pagan and Ruben Tejada, respectively.

My tough time accepting the loss of Jose Reyes goes back to the day I was born.  Please allow me to explain.

I'll always be connected to Jose, and not just through an internet connection.

On June 20, 2004, my future colleague at Studious Metsimus saw me sitting up on a display in the Mets Team Store located behind home plate at Shea Stadium.  I was dressed in the gray Mets hoodie you're used to seeing me in, surrounded by... nothing ... I was the last Mets bear of my kind in the Team Store.  From my vantage point, I could see outside the windows of the store, but I couldn't see the field, even with my proximity to home plate.  Therefore, I had yet to see Jose Reyes play.

It was Father's Day and my future colleague decided I should come out from behind the window and see my first Mets game in person.  So he paid $25 for the right to take me off the display (I don't come cheap) and we went up to our seats in the mezzanine.

That weekend was special for other reasons in addition to it being my first Mets game after my "birth".  On Friday, June 18, the Mets held a ceremony to honor Mike Piazza for becoming the all-time leader in home runs by a catcher.  The following night, June 19, was Jose Reyes' first appearance for the Mets after spending the first two-plus months of the season on the disabled list.  I wanted to see Reyes so badly, being that I was not "alive" for his rookie season in 2003.

Do you know how much of a fan of Reyes I was?  I told my colleague once we left the Team Store on June 20 that my name was Jose (even though we all know it's Joey).  Reyes did not lead off for the Mets that day.  That honor went to Kaz Matsui, who was also playing shortstop for the Mets at the time, with Reyes manning second base.

The game between the Mets and the Tigers was scoreless through three and a half innings.  Jeremy Bonderman was pitching beautifully for the Tigers, taking a no-hitter into the bottom of the fourth.  Then Jose Reyes came to bat to lead off the inning and everything changed, both for me and the Mets.

Reyes worked a seven-pitch walk to start the inning.  After Bonderman struck out Mike Piazza and Cliff Floyd, he faced the dangerous Richard Hidalgo.  Hidalgo had just been acquired by the Mets from the Astros prior to the weekend series against Detroit and was familiarizing himself with Shea Stadium.  Prior to his fourth inning at-bat, Hidalgo had gotten off to an 0-for-8 start as a Met.  But in none of those eight at-bats did Hidalgo come up with Reyes on base.  That was not the case in this at-bat.

With Reyes bouncing back and forth off first base, Bonderman started to become frazzled.  He threw several times to first baseman Carlos Peña with Reyes getting back safely each time.  Finally, after throwing a strike to Hidalgo, Bonderman grooved a pitch that Hidalgo hit over the fence for his first home run as a Met.  Without question, it was Reyes' nerve-jangling dance off first base that caused Bonderman to change his approach on the mound.  I had just seen firsthand what a dynamic player Reyes was, how he could change a game by getting into the mind of the opposing pitcher.

 I idolized Jose Reyes so much that I'd slide into second base head-first like he would.

It was the beginning of a love affair with Jose Reyes that took me to the highest highs (the 2006 playoffs) and the lowest lows (any of his ten million trips to the disabled list).  Ever since Father's Day 2004, I followed everything Reyes did.  I cheered when he moved back to shortstop after Art Howe's ill-advised decision to move him to second base in 2004 failed miserably.  I cringed when Jerry Manuel tried to bat him third in the lineup in April and May 2010.  I was confused when Jose took himself out of the lineup after collecting a bunt base hit in the team's final game of the 2011 season, then elated when he won the batting title later that night.

But alas, that bunt hit was the last time I'd see him in a Mets uniform.  It would be the last time anyone would see him wearing the only major league uniform he had ever worn.

Jose Reyes is now a Miami Marlin.  It doesn't seem right, does it?  I didn't know who the Mets' shortstop was before Reyes played his first game in 2003 or who wore No. 7 last before it became synonymous with Reyes.  It didn't matter to me that Rey Sanchez manned the position prior to Jose's debut or that Jason Phillips wore No. 7 for 11 games in 2002.  It was all about Jose Reyes for me.

Now he's gone.

I named myself Jose after my "birth" because I wanted to be like No. 7 on the Mets.  He was the future of the team but he was right there in front of me in the present.  He was flashy, energetic and he played with such a love of the game, it was hard not to love him.

I will still be a fan of Jose Reyes.  After all, it's hard to give up on something once you've had a connection with it for your entire lifetime.  But that connection will never be the same for me.  It won't be the same when I see Ruben Tejada start a double play.  Whenever Angel Pagan wipes dirt off his pants after stealing a base or legging out a triple, no one will start singing "Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose".

It'll be quite difficult for me at Citi Field in 2012.  As always, I'll root for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the one on the back.  But when the Marlins come to town and I see the name "REYES" on the back of their leadoff hitter's jersey, a mountain of memories will flood my mind.

Jose Reyes and I will always have a special bond, going back to the day we first met on June 20, 2004.  The Mets won that game against the Tigers, but I feel like I won by getting to see him play for as long as I did.  Guess that's a connection that'll never break.

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