Last week I went on a road trip, for a number of reasons: I wanted to get some junk out of our apartment, a problem I solved by selling CDs and sticking my parents with boxes of baseball cards; I wanted to see Gettysburg; I wanted to drive around for a couple of days; and I figured the road might be good for some thinking and career self-counseling.
We’ll see how the last item progresses, but all the others got accomplished. In Virginia, I was thumbing through a fan of long-forgotten cards and had two happy discoveries, minutes before the boxes would have gone into the attic, likely never to be seen again. One was a 2007 Binghamton Mets card for Raul Valdes, whose previous card in The Holy Books had been a Bowman card showing him in a Cubs uniform and identifying him as Raul Valdez. I grabbed that one for transport back to New York, then noticed something else — a 2007 Binghamton card of Jose Reyes. Wearing No. 7 and everything.
No, not that Jose Reyes, the one we’re all voting onto the All-Star team. (You are, right? Get to it.) I mean the other one.
You might remember Jose A. Reyes — the A. is for Ariel, as opposed to the more famous Jose’s B. for Bernabe — in camp with the Mets in 2007 with a bunch of other non-roster catchers. Jose A. was barrel-shaped and catcher-slow, prompting David Wright to joke that “I’m going to go out on a limb here, but I’ll say that the shortstop is a little faster.” Jose A. wore 77, which led to more jokes. They were both from the Dominican Republic, born less than four months apart in 1983, though Jose A. was from Barahona, in the interior, while Jose B. was from Santiago, on the coast. The New York Times had fun with it. We all did.
What kept it from being too cruel was that Jose A. himself was a good sport about it, and he wasn’t one of those non-roster guys you knew would never make The Show, because he already had. Jose A. had logged five plate appearances over four games with the Cubs at the end of 2006, including a big-league hit. He was a made man.
Baseball can be cruel in terms of family connections and common names. We first learn this when we’re kids and are flabbergasted to learn that Hank Aaron had a brother; later, when we’re older and have learned something about the disappointments of life, we may wonder if Tommie Aaron might have been happier in some other line of work. Other examples abound. Jose Canseco’s brother Ozzie was also his identical twin, which at the time was a fascinating starting point for arguments about nature and nurture, though pharmacology would now be part of the discussion, too. The Mets employed Mike Maddux as Dallas Green’s designated scapegoat while being regularly beaten by Mike’s brother Greg, but at least Mike was a different sort of pitcher than Greg and forged a respectable career as a pitching coach. Robin Yount played for 20 years, collected 3,142 hits and is in the Hall of Fame; his brother Larry hurt himself warming up for his big-league debut with the Houston Astros and departed, having never thrown a pitch in anger. Sons get it too: Spend a few minutes looking over the career of Pete Rose Jr. and you’ll wonder what Shakespeare or Faulkner might have done with it.
Then there are common names. The two Jose Reyeses weren’t the first such Mets duo, of course: The ’62 club employed two Bob Millers at once, with the traveling secretary rather pragmatically rooming them together. Thirty-eight years later, the Mets pulled the same trick with the two Bobby Joneses. At least those pitchers weren’t light-years apart in terms of notoreity: The Mets have also employed pitchers Bob L. Gibson and Pedro A. Martinez, though thankfully (for their sakes) neither of them overlapped with famous Cardinal and momentary Mets pitching instructor Bob Gibson or Pedro J. Martinez, who requires neither his middle initial nor his last name to be instantly recognizable.
So whatever happened to The Other Jose Reyes?
He was sent to minor-league camp in mid-March of 2007 and didn’t get a call-up — not surprising given that he hit .214 in Double-A. He didn’t play in pro ball in 2008, but I assume he wore a uniform somewhere in the Caribbean, because the Orioles signed him at year’s end and brought him to spring training in 2009. They sent Jose A. to minor-league camp in mid-March and after that there’s no trace of him. He’d had elbow woes with the Orioles, which for a catcher who couldn’t hit much might have been the final straw.
Or maybe Jose A. is still out there in a Dominican league, hoping to catch the eye of some team seeking organizational depth. And why not? He, like his more famous countrymate with the same name and number, is just 28. He knows by now that few positions offer more longevity while demanding less hitting ability than catcher, particularly if you can make the transition to wise old catcher. I hope he’s still plugging away somewhere and lining himself up for a stint as a roving instructor. Or, if the elbow betrayed him, I hope he’s at least happy — happy enough to smile patiently at the 10,000th person who makes a joke about his stolen bases or his impending free-agent riches, and happy enough to talk about his two weeks with the Cubs, when someone else carried his bags and he hit white balls for batting practice, and if you’ll stop being an ass for a moment he’ll show you the ball he hit for an eighth-inning single off Milwaukee’s Derrick Turnbow on Sept. 26, 2006. Drove in two. You could look it up.