Being of inferior genetic stock, I don’t have the faintest idea what it must be like to be a major-league baseball player, blessed with amazing hand-eye coordination and fast-twitch muscles and everything else I lack.
But I’m willing to edge not very far out on a limb to say this: It must be awesome being Jose Reyes.
There he was tonight, tripling twice and doubling and walking and stealing and coming home to score. He was everywhere, in perpetual motion, churning legs and flying hair and clapping hands. It must be a blast to be in there doing all that.
When Jose is really on — as he’s been for a happily long stretch now — he doesn’t so much hit balls as he attacks them, slashing at them with his bat and then lighting out after them on the basepaths. He’s around first before you’ve gotten beyond that initial instinctive YEAAAHHHHH!!!!! and you catch up with him making calculations as he nears second. With most balls in the gap, you assume a double and figure if everything breaks right the batter might wind up with a triple. With Jose it’s the opposite — you assume triple and hurriedly downgrade your expectations when you remember there’s a plodding runner stuck in front of him or a particularly rifle-armed outfielder behind him with bad intent. When he’s standing on second Jose tends to look pleased but also slightly disappointed, like a kid who got a nice piece of cake but saw the knife placed just on the wrong side of a perfect frosting rose. Jose on third is something different. It starts with the body hurtling to the ground, dreadlocks aloft, the toes stretched to drag in the dirt. We all know he shouldn’t be sliding head-first, that it’s as crazy for him to put his hands and wrists in harm’s way as it would be for a violinist to punch it up with some drunk at a bar. Yet, at the same time, it’s so cool, the way he locks on to the base as he goes by, using it like a fighter uses the arresting wire on a carrier’s deck. And then the look at the ump, daring him to deny what he’s just seen and all those people have just enjoyed. He gets the safe sign (unless Marvin Hudson is involved), but there’s still all this extra energy from his flywheel trip around the bases. So he has to clap, except when Jose claps he doesn’t clap like you or I clap — he whacks his hands together like a sugared-up kid with the biggest erasers in the world. Or he finds someone to point to. Or he just grins a million watts’ worth. Or maybe he tries out all three.
Two such Reyes trips to third would have been treat enough for most any night at Citi Field, but we also got Carlos Beltran as the undercard.
Beltran is an entirely different player to watch: expressionless where Reyes is exuberant, a quietly graceful machine where Reyes is a manic eruption of windmilling limbs. When Jose’s on he lunges at balls with an almost palpable hunger; when Beltran’s locked in he knows exactly what pitch he wants, identifies it and makes whatever minute adjustments are necessary to catch the ball with the fat part of his bat, employing his lethal swing as he has so many times before. Then he’s off, gliding to whatever his destination is and stopping there, mission accomplished.
None of this inspires Reyesian flights of fancy — if anything it plays into the hands of Beltran’s detractors, who register the absence of grimaces and fist pumps rather than the presence of well-machined execution. But I love to watch him nonetheless: I sometimes find myself surprised that a well-struck Beltran hit went as far as it did, because that sniper’s swing is so quietly perfect that it seems like it shouldn’t send a ball rocketing off into some distant corner of Citi Field, or sailing off to settle down above the Great Wall of Flushing. And seeing Beltran whole again — or as close as he can come these days — feels like a gift. The Mets haven’t been particularly lucky this year, but there has been this: Beltran is an everyday player where we wondered how much we’d have to hear he was resting, and we no longer worry about him when there’s a tricky bloop to right or an extra base that needs taking. He’ll get it and he’ll get there, and then he’ll be in there tomorrow.
There was more tonight, of course: one of Ike Davis’s patented blasts out of the yard; the delightful, unexpected sight of Jason Pridie lashing a game-changing three-run homer beyond the David Wright DMZ; and the oddity of having every Dodger intentional walk backfire soon after enduring every Giant intentional walk working to perfection. Not to mention that the 10-year-old who very capably delivered the first pitch — the son of a Red Hook firefighter killed on 9/11 — was named Chris Cannizzaro and yes he was named for the Mets catcher and yes he really is a fan. “Always hated the Yankees,” he explained coolly. Great all around, but watching Reyes and Beltran was best of all.
The Mets are having a confounding, which-way-is-up year, one in which there are encouraging stories but also too many holes to fill, at least for this campaign. I’ve been a fan long enough to know what’s coming. I understand that Beltran is in his final Mets campaign, and should bring back a decent prospect or two in the summertime, particularly if he’s still looking as sound then as he does now. I understand Reyes isn’t on base as often as he could be, that he’s lost time to injuries, and that he might be too expensive to bring back. But he remains a monster talent at a critical position, and he too might fetch a decent reward from some playoff contender on his way to free agency and a new home.
And perhaps that will be the right thing to do in both cases. Perhaps they will leave us and in two or three years we will love the players we got in return, young stars who have us giddy with the possibilities and whose names are front and center when we crow about the new core. That could happen, and we could be grateful it did. But oh, what a price. Carlos Beltran in Angels red would hurt, but Jose Reyes in San Francisco black and orange, only seen six times a year, might really break my heart.
I’ll savor every sweet swing and tumbling third-base-as-brake slide. We all should. But the more of them we see, the more we will have to wonder how many are left, and how we will feel when the answer is none.