[T]he only name anyone sings in the Yorkshire ale houses, raising their stinking jars to their stinking mouths, is Brian Clough. Brian Clough über-fucking-alles! Understand?
—Brian Clough, The Damned United
I don’t know when it will be 2006 again for the Mets. I don’t know when we’ll have a regular season in which we praise our lads to the high heavens from the Third of April to the First of October, from the top of the order to the pitcher’s spot. Nothing was ever wrong and all was always right a mere four seasons ago.
That’s a gauzy distortion of real time history, of course. We fretted everything and everybody when the season began and our ship was taking on anxieties by the nautical ton as it wound down, but there was a golden period somewhere in the middle when all was bright, all was clear and, above all, there was Jose.
Jose! Jose! Jose!
In the late ’90s, early ’00s, my friend Joe and I would go to random Saturday games, by no means seeking the same section every time, yet we always seemed to wind up in proximity to a group of fans who would break out into sing-song chant with no apparent baseball provocation. I never could make out what they were saying, singing or chanting, but it sounded more appropriate to one of those English football clubs whose games bars in Woodside advertised on their outdoor chalkboards than it did to whatever was going on at Shea.
Then one night in June 2006, after Jose Reyes had rounded first on a single that followed a homer, a double and a triple to therefore create a cycle, I heard it again through the TV. That chant or song. The English football guys from years before. What were they chanting/singing exactly?
No, it was Jose!
Jose! Jose! Jose!
As the animated man in the Guinness ads of the time would have put it, “BRILLIANT!”
I’ve never learned from whence Jose! was born. Was it a Shea scoreboard thing that actually caught on? Was it fan-generated? Was it the lads from the Mezzanine who used to congregate in full throat behind Joe and me? Don’t know where it came from, but it wasn’t going anywhere. Only Jose was going somewhere: to second or third most nights. Jose was going from “could be” to “is,” as in Jose is the Mets’ catalyst, the Mets’ ignition switch, the Mets’ lifeblood. Jose is the best leadoff hitter in the game. He is atop our lineup and we are on the top of the world.
Jose! Jose! Jose!
As happens with every year once it becomes the past, 2006 gets harder to remember fully and accurately. The bright period from then is generally eclipsed by the gloomy ending now. What had been a storybook season became prologue for a dark and stormy next three chapters. Jose himself would have his moments across those pages — as would Jose! — but the resonance would literally and figuratively diminish. By 2009, Jose/Jose! took an involuntary extended sabbatical.
Met life, regrettably, went on without him.
Eleven days ago, a still young fellow wearing No. 7 stepped in to lead off a game for the New York Mets for the first time in a long time. He looked familiar, but his carriage struck no chord. The No. 7 I remembered was swift and sleek and above all sunny. This one was grim and attempting without success to gain his bearings. I kept an eye on him for the succeeding week and change. Still not quite right, still not quite what I remembered. Silence and glumness sat in his wake.
Then last night, on the radio, in the car, in the bottom of the second, joined in progress…Carlos Zambrano has already allowed one runner but he has two outs and the pitcher up. It’s Mike Pelfrey, with the Big Pelf-sized strike zone. But Zambrano finds it not big enough and walks his opposite number. That’s two on, meaning the order turns over to the leadoff hitter.
It’s Jose Reyes, mired in what is, for all intents and purposes, an 0-for-’10 slump. Gosh, I think, while making a left turn toward home, if he’s ever going to break out, this would sure be an ideal time to do it. The count goes to three-and-one. A walk wouldn’t be the worst thing, but, you know…
With that, there’s a swing and a drive to left and — yes! It’s in the gap! Here comes Pagan from second. Here comes Pelfrey from first (Christ, don’t get hurt on a play at the plate). Is Mike gonna score? He is, which is great and all, but now I want to know what I really want to know.
And then I know because Howie Rose tells me: Jose Reyes slides into third with his first triple of the season.
Jose Reyes with a triple. The 74th of his major league career, more than any Met. The first he’s collected since April 29, 2009, almost a year. There had been triples at Citi Field since then, but none by Jose Reyes, he for whose bat and legs and particular talent for creating triples this park was designed. Earlier, in the first, there had been a single. Later there’d be two more, plus a stolen base. But for now there was a triple. A Jose Reyes triple.
I don’t know how much or even if they were singing at Citi Field. But alone in the car, I sure as hell was.