When Jose Reyes made his major league debut for the Mets in June 2003, I was a die-hard 12-year-old fan. Life as a Mets fan wasn’t easy, as after two glorious years in 1999 and 2000, the Mets had become mired in mediocrity, fielding an old, washed-up team that didn’t have much going for it.
But on June 10, Reyes changed all of that.
I didn’t know much about Reyes (other than that he existed) when he was called up to face the Rangers. But right from the get-go he caught my eye and captured my imagination. He went 2-for-4 that day, scoring two runs. Five days later he hit his first home run—a grand slam, no less—and stole his first bag.
Over the course of 69 games he revitalized the team and gave fans something to cheer for. More importantly, Reyes was the promise of a better future. An eternal fan in myself was born.
I had become a Mets fan midway through the 1998 season, when they acquired Mike Piazza. At the time, Piazza seemed larger than life, a power hitter that could hit the ball for miles. Piazza was exactly how I imagined baseball superstars were supposed to be: big, hulking sluggers who hit mammoth home runs and in large quantities. And growing up in the late '90s and early 2000s—when homers reigned supreme—it seemed like this was the only way to be a star in baseball.
But Reyes made speed look cool. Suddenly it was much more impressive to hit the ball into the gap and leg out a triple than to blast a ball over the fence. A ground ball anywhere on the infield was no guaranteed out, as Reyes transformed them into a race against time. Any time he got on base, my eyes were glued to the screen hoping to hear the announcers excitedly announce “There goes Reyes!” You could tell that they too were amazed.
Never before had I seen anything like it. Between 2005 and 2008, Reyes put up some stunning numbers: 60 steals, 64 steals, 78 steals and 56 steals. He consistently put up high averages and even showed some impressive pop for a speedy shortstop. Yes, he could be maddening with his refusal to take a walk, and his penchant for pop-ups could be mind-boggling at points. But holding this against him is like criticizing a corner on the Mona Lisa: you were missing the brilliance of the rest of the picture.
Not only was Reyes an incredible talent, he displayed it all with an infectious smile and some dancing to boot. Sure, maybe Reyes did not always have the best timing for when he chose to celebrate, but there is no way anyone could not break into a grin watching him whiz around the bases, slide into third base with a triple, and pop up with that huge smile. He clearly enjoyed playing the game, and you could not help loving him for it.
That is what I’ll remember most about Reyes’ time with the Mets. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss watching him take off for second, or how he could beat out anything in the infield from bunts to grounders right to the shortstop, or the way he kept his opponents on their toes. But what I’ll miss most are those triples and the excitement I felt as he flew around the bases, even if I missed the whole thing because I had the audacity to blink once.
Though the Mets seem to be heading nowhere, and one could question the rationality of the Marlins in giving out such a big contract to a player who has been rather injury-prone in his career, it will still be weird to tune into a game next year and not see No. 7 manning shortstop.
When I was 12, I used to dream that Reyes would be a Met forever, always using that blazing speed to win games and always dazzling fans with one remarkable show of athleticism after another. He was a New York Met in a way that even Piazza couldn’t be, and I thought this was a bond that would last a lifetime.
As I got older, I learned the naivete of this view as I soon realized it is all just a business and a means of livelihood for everyone but the fans. But at age 21 and finally facing the day I hoped would never come, knowing this fact doesn’t make dealing with reality any easier.