- Faith and Fear in Flushing - http://www.faithandfearinflushing.com -

Aw What the Hell, Let's Dance

Once upon a time the Mets changed the way Jose Reyes ran, afflicting him with a limping gait like a horse afraid of stepping in a hole. In theory it seemed like a good idea, a way to cure the chronic hamstring woes that threatened to derail an electric but raw career. In practice it just made Jose look uncertain and vaguely embarrassed. He quickly ended the experiment and returned to who he was — a lightning-fast player who'd make your heart race by bouncing around the bases like a superball liberated from a shopping-center gumball machine, and one who'd occasionally make your heart sink by grabbing at a hamstring on a cold night.

Once upon a somewhat more-recent time Jose Reyes changed the way Jose Reyes played, shelving the little twisty-foot dance moves and the octuple-degree-of-difficulty handshakes. In theory it seemed like a good idea, seeing how the dancing and the greeting occasionally made opposing teams want to take a bat to Jose's boombox. In practice, our most-exciting player seemed muted and weighed down both in the dugout and on the field. The joy had leaked out of his game.

Some small mean part of us didn't entirely mind this for a while — Jose had sulked and slumped and needlessly kicked the Marlins awake, and as a 2007 Met he had earned a cold shoulder for some to-be-determined portion of forever. But a couple of weeks into the new season, we've seen what baseball is like when you're angry at a team and looking for excuses to let them know it. And it's no fun.

Despite New York chest-beating, I don't believe booing a team has much effect on them — most of them are too focused and too good at what they do (and, in some cases, too rich and dumb) to give a rat's ass what the civilians in the seats think. But the effect on us is easier to see — that anger bounces off its targets and winds up back on us, eroding the joy of watching a beautiful game played on green grass under spring skies. I'm not opposed to booing the home team when they've earned it — I once booed Braden Looper so hard that something tore in my throat and I couldn't talk above a whisper for 36 hours — but Jesus Christ, too many of us booed Johan Santana after his first home start. If you'd like to see where this bad road leads, take I-95 south for a bit. On the whole, I'd rather not be a Philadelphia.

The alternative? It's to do the hardest thing of all: Let go.

That's what the Mets themselves seem determined to do. Yesterday afternoon, as Ben Shpigel reports [1] in the Times, Carlos Beltran told Reyes it was time to “be the Reyes you’ve always been. Forget what people say, what they write about you, what people think. Just be you.” A couple of hours after that, Reyes had four hits and the Mets finally looked alive again. Tonight he rocketed a home run and greeted Beltran, returned to the dugout after his own decisive home run [2], with a Reyesian handshake. Beltran, meanwhile, continued to be the Beltran he's never been: “We’re happy he’s doing it again. We don’t care if other teams get offended.”

Whether this is wise or unwise is something we'll find out. But I know this much — it's better than playing lead-britches baseball while waiting for the booing to start again. And there's where we have our part to play. Given last September, the decision makers remain under scrutiny, as does the clubhouse. (About what, Mr. Delgado? Your apparent boredom in the face of failure, for openers.) But surely we don't have to referee these things on a pitch-by-pitch basis. If Jose can let go and offer Mister Fantastic handshakes, if Carlos can let go and let Nats and Marlins and Phils and Braves take offense, maybe we can let go and wait for something good to happen.