NEW YORK —
It had been five years since Jose Reyes departed the Mets and signed a huge six-year, $106 million free-agent contract with the Miami Marlins, but now that he’s property of the Mets organization once again, it’s apparent that Mets fans are willing to forgive and forget.
The 33-year-old Reyes made his return to the Mets organization last Sunday afternoon, playing third base and leading off for the Brooklyn Cyclones against the Hudson Valley Renegades at MCU Park, giving the Class A Rookie League franchise a jolt of standing-room-only excitement.
With 7,851 fans in attendance _ including more than 2,500 who bought tickets after it was announced Reyes would make his return Sunday at the beachfront ballpark _ Reyes went 0-for-3 at the plate, looked totally out of sorts, striking out and grounding out meekly to third in his first two at-bats, then reaching on a fielder’s choice when Renegades’ third baseman Jim Haley dropped a pop-up, but managed to force Cyclones first baseman Dionis Paulino at second.
Needless to say, Reyes didn’t look like the Reyes of old.
But the crowd embraced Reyes like nothing ever happened, like five years didn’t pass, like he wasn’t arrested and charged with domestic violence on his wife last October, eventually getting hit with a 52-game suspension from Major League Baseball and getting his unconditional release from the Colorado Rockies despite the fact they owed him almost $50 million.
All of that was forgotten in the eyes of diehard Mets fans, who are desperately seeking a savior to this roller-coaster of a season.
Last Sunday afternoon, the crowd loudly cheered Reyes every time his name was mentioned.
The familiar “Jose, Jose, Jose,” rhythmic, sing-song chant began with the fans, then was piped loud over the public address system.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Reyes said in a post-game press conference with approximately 20 or so writers. “Some people love me, but I know some people are upset with me. I understand that. I made a mistake and I have to live with that. I’m sorry for the terrible mistake I made. I want to put it behind me and continue my career.”
Before the game, Reyes was spotted signing autographs.
Before fans ever entered the park, Reyes was busy with former Mets All-Star infielder Edgardo Alfonzo, working on fielding grounders at third base, a new position for Reyes, who was a four-time All-Star at shortstop with the Mets.
Alfonzo, last seen locally when he was trying to hang on as a player with the Newark Bears four years ago, is a third base coach with the Cyclones.
Reyes easily handled his first play in the field, a foul pop-up down the third base line in the second inning, again drawing a round of applause. He then easily handled another pop-up in the fifth inning, drawing more cheers and another round of the “Jose, Jose” chant. It was clear that the fans wanted to show Reyes the love and were glad he was back with the Mets, where it all began for him as a 19-year-old in 2003.
“It was a little bit emotional for me,” Reyes said. “Like I said, I didn’t know what to expect. But hearing people call my name and cheering for me was really special. This is the first time in my life I got in trouble. I love playing the game and I love to play the game here in New York. I think I deserve a second chance.”
Reyes’ wife, Katherine, was spotted seated in a second tier suite, wearing a white baseball cap, obviously showing support for her embattled husband.
There were scores of people and domestic violence advocates who were adamantly against Reyes’ return to professional baseball, so Katherine Reyes being in attendance may have quelled some of that furor.
“I have to say one thing,” Reyes said. “What happened never broke up my family. My wife has always been with me. The people who really know me know what kind of person I am. I’m just a happy kid who loves to play the game. I’ll say I’m sorry again. I was here all that time and there never was a problem. I’m a human being. I made one mistake. People get second chances.”
Reyes said that he is ready to talk to domestic violence counselors and groups to make the wrong turn into a right.
“I have to thank Jeff Wilpon (Mets owner) and Sandy (Alderson, the Mets general manager) for giving me the chance,” Reyes said. “If I have to say I’m sorry every day, I will. If I have to answer the questions every day, I will. I’ve never been in trouble.”
Reyes said that he knows how important it is for him to be a model citizen.
“I have three girls,” Reyes said. “I need to be a positive example for them. I’ve said I’m sorry to everyone.”
Alderson said that it might take a week to 10 days before Reyes sees major league pitching. He proved Sunday he’s not clearly ready, but Reyes thinks otherwise. He proved he wasn’t ready later in the week during stops in Altoona and Binghamton. Reyes had only one hit in his first 21 at-bats in his return to the Mets’ organization.
“I say I’m ready to go,” Reyes said. “There’s always going to be someone who has to say something about me. I just have to stay focused and humble, play baseball and help the New York Mets win.”
Reyes’ agent Peter Greenberg said that he needed to come back to New York.
“He was in a very tough situation in Colorado,” Greenberg said. “He was happy in Toronto and got shipped to Colorado. He just wasn’t happy. But now he’s revitalized by being here. He has a great attitude. I don’t think there could have been a better situation for him to jumpstart his career.”
Reyes has seen time at third base and left field in his comeback. He has yet to play his natural position of shortstop.
Reyes may never return to the player he once was. By the looks of things so far, he’s not even close. So therefore, the savior crown that he’s being forced to wear for a team that has been scuffling along and struggling, far from the National League champion squad of a year ago, may never fit. Right now, it looks as if Reyes can’t be even another piece of the puzzle.
But he’s willing to take a chance _ and the team that located him and signed him when he was just a 16-year-old Dominican hotshot is willing to take a chance on him.
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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer
Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.
It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.
In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.
In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.
He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.
During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.
Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”