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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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7 Days

Welcome to A Met for All Seasons, a series in which we consider a given Met who played in a given season and…well, we’ll see.

One must wait until the evening
To see how splendid the day has been

—Sophocles

In the film Defending Your Life, Albert Brooks stars as Daniel Miller, a Californian who dies in a car accident and is sent to an odd place called Judgment City, a town that, if nothing else, lives up to its name. While in Judgment City, Daniel will be judged for how he used his lifetime on Earth, with a tribunal examining ‘x’ number of the days he lived, before determining whether he moves forward in his existence or goes back to start over as another person. In Daniel’s case, he will have nine of his days critiqued.

Having just laid out the premise, I realize that if you haven’t seen Defending Your Life, you might not get a sense of how funny this movie is. Spooky, thought-provoking and suspenseful, too, but it was written and directed by Brooks, so there’s no issue classifying it as a comedy if you need to apply a label.

If I need to apply a label to Jose Reyes, I have no issue going with “my favorite player,” certainly during the bulk of his playing career, including today’s spotlight year of 2007 (speaking of spooky). From 2003 through 2018, in a Mets uniform and to varying extents when he donned other, more transitory garb, he carried the banner and I carried a torch, sans pitchfork. I adopted him as My Guy when he was barely out of his teens and I stuck with him in that role until he approached the age I was when I first heard of him. There’s roughly a twenty-year difference between Jose and me. Had I stopped to consider the incongruity of someone around 40 getting proprietary about the fortunes of someone around 20 — someone I’d never met and someone, at least to date, I never would meet — maybe I never would have grown so attached. But sports doesn’t have to add up. It just has to offer the promise of happiness

Deciding Jose Reyes was My Guy usually did that. This was a kid who I can’t imagine as anything but a favorite player, if not mine, then that of those innately delighted to get excited. Jose came to us, on the last day that he was 19, with a set of wheels we were told would steal our breath as he stole us bases. If I could keep up with him, I could get on board with that.

I did. I cheered his arrival on June 10, 2003, in about as cheerless a year as the Mets have managed in this century. Not too many weeks into his career, I swung by the Mets Clubhouse Shop on 42nd Street in search of a pick-me-up, which for me meant a player-number t-shirt. Those are my speed. Jerseys have always struck me as impractical extravagances, even in their natural habitat, the ballgame. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t grow up at a time when regular people wore them. It was a big deal to see the drummer in some rock band wearing one. Otherwise, they were for players. By the late ’90s, however, they became popular to the point of de rigueur. Yet they didn’t connect with me. No pockets in this, the cell phone age, seemed impractical. If it’s cold, the jersey’s gonna be under my coat and nobody will see it. If it’s hot, I’m gonna take it off and stuff it in my bag. Others may enjoy their jerseys, and, as my mother might have said, wear them in good health.

The player-number t-shirt (don’t call it a “shirsey”) is of greater utility to me. I don’t need a game to wear it. I like when one comes up in rotation. A good, random wearing can create a conversation out of nowhere in most any situation. And should the player in whom I invested a fraction of the cost of a jersey be traded, leave as a free agent or somehow lose my favor, I simply take it out of rotation. Or not. Some t-shirts have been in my rotation three times longer than Jacob deGrom has been in the Mets’. (I’ve had a deGROM 48 since 2016.)

That afternoon in late July of 2003, expanding my lunch hour as long as seemed feasible, I made my way toward the back of the Clubhouse Shop. Past the discounted stacks of ALOMAR 12s and VAUGHN 42s and other detritus of an era that never did take off. I needed to publicly affiliate myself with a fresh Met. VENTURA 4 I discarded in 2002 when he showed up at Shea wearing steel gray with “NEW YORK” across the chest and beat us a game. I did the same to HUNDLEY 9 in a 1999 show of loyalty to PIAZZA 31. PIAZZA 31 remained a stalwart in my t-shirt drawers as of ’03, but it needed contemporary company. REED 35, BAERGA 8, ORDOÑEZ 10, OLERUD 5 had all been retired to the folded piles where I direct all shirts I deem no longer operative…and yes, I liked Carlos Baerga enough to wear him for a while. ALFONZO 13 was, of course, timeless (and is still in rotation to this day), but Fonzie was masquerading as a San Francisco Giant in 2003.

“Excuse me,” I asked the clerk, “do you have any Jason Phillips t-shirts?”

My nascent affection was up for grabs a little. Phillips had been a Met a little longer than Reyes to that point and had earned my admiration in a season when I mostly grumbled at every other Met. Jason Phillips had played a competent first base. He was hitting over .300. He modeled the Goggles Paisano specs. I thought PHILLIPS 23 deserved first shot at my wallet.

There was no PHILLIPS 23 in stock. I can’t say if much was ever manufactured. Ah, but REYES 7, the latest shirt for the latest thing, that they had.

Sold.

***
By the dawn of 2007, my judgment concerning Jose Reyes was a) he was the most wonderful player in baseball, and b) I really liked wearing REYES 7 on my back. My Guy. My shirt. My, my, how he could hit and field and run, especially run. No Met had ever put together the speed game as Jose had, especially once he shook off the injuries that conspired to slow his departure from the starting gate in 2003 and 2004. When not assigned to the DL (usually with a hamstring problem, the burden of a fast player, I figured), he was out there doing when they said he’d be doing when word surfaced from Binghamton in 2002 that he was gonna come up and blow everybody away. The natural shortstop even overcame an unnecessary shift to second base amid the misguided Kazuo Matsui experiment and retained his potential. Not every Met of promise overcame the obstacles the Mets inevitably placed in his path.

Come 2005, Jose Reyes broke through in earnest. After shaking off a case of acute unfamiliarity with the strike zone (his first walk came in his 120th plate appearance), he began rounding into the offensive threat the Mets had in mind when they signed him at age 16 out of the Dominican Republic. Jose turned 22 in 2005, a year when he played in all but one game, leading the National League in stolen bases and the majors in triples. These are the most fun things a baseball player can lead a league or two in. It means you’re fast, which is far more fun than slow (my affection for the plodding Jason Phillips, who’d since been traded, had mostly faded). It mean you’ve gotten on base regardless of your comfort with taking four balls. It means you certainly got to first base and you didn’t feel confined to it. Quite possibly first base was merely the first third of our your immediate journey, in which case you were three-quarters home after hitting the ball.

Steals and triples. It’s impossible to not smile at those. It’s impossible to not smile when creating them. Jose Reyes smiled a lot in 2005. He smiled way more in 2006. We all did, as the Mets raced to a divisional lead in April and put the field behind them for good. As June arrived, Jose was on the cusp of stardom. Before June was over, he lit up the galaxy.

June 2006 was the month of The Road Trip. There’ve been many Met road trips since 1962. This, however, was The Road Trip, the 9-1 romp through L.A., Phoenix and Philadelphia that eliminated all Phillies, Braves and doubt. What made The Road Trip singular above all road trips in Mets history was the way the Mets went to town on all these teams they visited. In their nine wins, the Mets scored in the top of the first every day and/or night; perhaps both.

Say, do you recall who was the Mets’ leadoff hitter in 2006? The Met who would have gotten just about first inning off to a rollicking start? Why, yes, it was prototypical 1970s/1980s leadoff hitter Jose Reyes, the switch-hitter who could steal and triple better than anybody, relatively modest accumulation of walks notwithstanding. In every game Jose played on The Road Trip, he scored. In every game Jose played on that trip, his team won. By the end of the week The Road Trip concluded, Jose shared National League Player of the Week honors with David Wright.

Then Reyes went right out and had an even better week. It was the week when Jose tucked a cycle into a massive hitting and scoring streak, and the cycle was almost beside the point. I mean, sure, a leadoff homer, a double, a triple that became a run on a wild pitch and a single is a big effing deal. But it was what happened after the single, in the bottom of the seventh against Cincinnati at Shea on June 21, that was bigger.

What happened was…

JOSE!
JOSE-JOSE-JOSE!
JOSE!
JOSE!

It caught on that Wednesday night, the soccer-style singing in honor of our striker, the player whose job it is to score. Fútbol and béisbol may operate quite differently, but this beautiful player playing as beautiful a game as any Met ever had over a stretch of weeks had Mets fans spanning the globe in search of the most appropriate way to say, ¡Gracias, José! What a kick.

The National League named Jose Reyes its player of the week for a second consecutive week. All the weeks seemed to be his. Before the Mets embarked on The Road Trip, on June 4, Jose was batting .248. By the time they were traveling men again, specifically after they took their second of three in Toronto on June 25, Jose was batting .302. In 18 games, he recorded 37 hits and crossed the plate 25 times. The slash line was .468/.512/.785. The Mets went 13-5. Jose was going to the All-Star Game for the first time.

The joie de Reyes of it all transcended the numbers and the honors. The energy. The excitement. The idea that if Jose got up, Jose could get on, and that if Jose got on, Jose could get us where we wanted to go and give us a joyride the whole way around the bases and up the standings.

Of course Jose Reyes was my favorite player. I was stunned he wasn’t everybody’s favorite player.

***
Before 2006 was over, Jose Reyes would homer thrice in one game, produce an inside-the-park homer in another game, and rack up all the Jose Reyes numbers a person would expect after prolonged exposure to the most wonderful player in baseball. Tops in triples again, with 17. The most steals, with 64. Way more than 100 runs. A little shy of 200 hits. Significant MVP support. And, oh yes, the acknowledged catalyst for the National League East Champions. The Mets hadn’t won a division title since 1988. Jose Reyes was five then. It had been a while.

With Jose leading off, Paul Lo Duca batting second and the demolition firm of Carlos, Carlos and David up behind them, it seemed impossible to imagine a pitching staff capable of stopping the 2006 Mets from capturing their first World Series since 1986. Jose Reyes was three then. It had been a while. The Dodgers couldn’t stop the Mets. We swept them in the NLDS. Next, Fox hyped, it would be “Albert Pujols and the Cardinals” versus “Jose Reyes and the Mets”. Those other guys we had were solid. A fistful of them were stars. I had a name/number shirt for three of them. But Jose Reyes was our headliner as we became national prime time programming, the Met above the marquee. I’d had his shirt since 2003, when we lost 95 games. Three long years had streaked from home to third in almost no time at all. Four more wins, and we’d be in the World Series. “Jose Reyes and the Mets” versus whoever was leading whoever from the American League. Bring ’em on. It seemed almost academic that Jose Reyes and the Mets would be there and win all of it.

It’s still been a while since we won the World Series, as you know. Still since 1986. There needed to be more to the Mets in October of 2006 than a hellacious first five hitters — and there was…but not enough, as it turned out. The last time the Mets won in ’06, in Game Six of the NLCS, it was Jose Reyes who put them on top ASAP with a leadoff homer versus Chris Carpenter. That win kept us alive. Jose went 3-for-4 in the Game Six that rarely gets mentioned in the annals of glorious Met Game Sixes. As clutch performances go, it was pantheon-worthy as anything Jose’s Met predecessors posted in the must-wins of 1986, 1988 or 1999.

We fell short in Game Seven, but that was, to my Jose-ish optimistic outlook of the moment, almost OK. To clarify, it wasn’t OK in and of itself, and it still isn’t OK. I really wanted the Mets to go that World Series and win that World Series. It’s still the one in my heart of hearts that got away more than any of our now seven cigarless postseason appearances. Yet it was OK in the sense that, clearly, we were too good to not be back in 2007. We had won 97 games. We had all that power in Beltran, Delgado and Wright. We would have our starting pitching healthy again, which we didn’t in the playoffs. And, of course, we would have Jose Reyes leading off. With ESPN choosing our Opener at St. Louis as its Sunday Night showcase, Jose would be the very first batter of the entire next baseball season. Talk about having a leg up on the competition. No, two legs. The two fastest, most dynamic legs anywhere.

I was gonna need another shirt. The first REYES 7 was kinda worn by now and the thick name-on-back lettering from 2003 never bothered mimicking the Mets’ font. In 2003, the Mets and high quality didn’t really mesh. My next REYES 7, for 2007, would be orange fabric, thin blue printing. Sleek, just like Jose.

***
Until 2007, there is no need for judgment beyond routine approval and extraordinary serenading. Jose Reyes has been a big leaguer for four seasons, two when was just getting going and two when he was all go. Why would 2007 not be a continuation, an acceleration of the Jose Reyes who had overtaken the baseball imagination, the Jose Reyes who was every bit as fantastic as I decided he was going to be?

Yet this is where I am compelled to detour to Judgment City. It’s The Road Trip I’d rather not take. I’d rather continue to list Jose Reyes accomplishment and punctuate them with grand anecdotes. Here’s all Jose Reyes did in all the years to come, here’s how marvelous it felt, try not to trip over the trophies.

That’s not quite what happened. I’m not sure I understand what happened. He still compiled some pretty shiny numbers and I can still point to some pretty impressive accomplishments and, if you cover one eye and read the chart with as generous an interpretation as you can muster, you’ll notice the Mets of the seasons directly following 2006 were quite the contender, pursuing their collective goal clear to the very end of their schedule, and who doesn’t relish a smashing pennant race?

Both eyes open, it wasn’t nearly such an unfettered success story, not for the Mets and, despite my never wanting to give an inch, not for Jose Reyes. As clear-eyed a fan as I believe I’ve always been, I’m reflexively blinded my loyalty to my inner-circle absolute favorite players. There’ve been only a handful of those in my more than half-century of rooting for the Mets. Jose Reyes is one of those.

In 2007, I finally accepted that my favorite player could do wrong. And it grudgingly occurred to me, as Jose Reyes neared the quarter-century mark himself, he might not always get better. There might be a ceiling for Jose Reyes. In fact, I might have already experienced it.

What a drag it is getting old.

***
In the spirit of Albert Brooks’s conception of Judgment City, I will now examine seven days from Jose Reyes’s 2007 season — seven for No. 7 from ’07. It is not up to me to pass judgment, exactly, but maybe I can get a better grip on where things began to go at least a little awry.

DAY 1: APRIL 6
Jose leads off the Mets’ series opener at Turner Field by tripling. He scores on a Lo Duca fly ball. It’s what we call a Reyes Run. The Mets are on a run already, having swept the Cardinals for a measure of revenge and now they’re sticking it to the Braves. Jose triples twice, scores twice, collects three hits and drives in four. The Mets win, 11-1. They’re 4-0. See, not quite going all the way in 2006 really was sort of OK because these Mets are too good to not be back; let’s call Game Seven a teachable moment. Jose is too good to not be back. When April ends, Reyes is batting .356. The leadoff hitter none other than Bobby Cox terms the best since Rickey Henderson has 18 RBIs to go with his 17 steals, 9 doubles and 5 triples. Sextuple that to reflect an entire season…well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s just revel in April. For this first 2007 month of production, Jose Reyes is named National League Player of the Month. It’s the award he wasn’t given the previous June. He lost that one to David Wright, so we’ll allow it.

DAY 2: MAY 29
The Mets are actually a little choppy as April becomes May. Their solution is to chop off their hair. As a team-building exercise, they almost all opt for crewcuts. (Guys, huh?) Jose is a little late to the barber party. He has such nice curls, but eventually he gets in on the noggin-shaving, and whether one thing has anything to do with another, being shorn at Shea seems to do the trick. By late May, the 2007 Mets are rolling like their 2006 predecessors. The Giants find out how hairy it can be facing off against Jose when he has nothing extra up top weighing him down. In a game that enters the bottom of the twelfth, with San Francisco ahead, 4-3, Reyes leads off against the closer of blown leads past, Armando Benitez. Seven years since J.T. Snow and Paul O’Neill convinced us to cringe, it is surprising to realize somebody is still trusting Armando Benitez with save situations, but at this point in his managerial career, Bruce Bochy is not yet a certified genius. Armando is his man. Fortunately, Jose is ours. Benitez walks the shortstop with whom he briefly shared a clubhouse four years earlier. The count had gone to three-and-two and…yeah, we recognize Armando Benitez. We also recognize Reyes on first. First? Make that second, for Jose has goaded Armando into a balk. Endy Chavez then bunts Jose to third. Carlos Beltran grounds out, and Jose has to stay put, but since when does Jose Reyes stay put? He dances off third. He is Lola from “Copacabana”. She would merengue/and do the cha-cha… And while Armando Benitez tried to concentrate on getting a third out, Jose Reyes has teased from Benitez’s ever-tender psyche a second balk. Jose can dance home. The game is tied. Moments later, Carlos Delgado homers, and the Mets have won, 5-4. Jose Reyes and the Mets are 33-17, five games up on the Braves, eight ahead of the Phillies. Who the hell is going to stop Jose Reyes and the Mets?

DAY 3: JUNE 15
As temporally dissonant as it is to grasp Armando Benitez is still around in 2007, how about getting a load of that load Roger Clemens? Clemens’s major league career dates back to Jose Reyes’s infancy. His infamy needs little introduction to Mets fans. We might have thought we were done with him when he stopped pitching for Houston after 2006. But the Rocket was always retiring and reneging. Little wonder that Suzyn Waldman bleated on an otherwise lovely Sunday afternoon that Clemens was returning from Texas to pitch in the Bronx (“of all the dramatic things I’ve ever seen!” she shrieked upon spotting the heretofore inactive 44-year-old in “George’s box”). It was too late in the season for Joe Torre to steer his delicate ace away from Shea Stadium; we’d already taken two of three in the civilized portion of the Subway Series. We were getting him on the other side of the Triborough. Perhaps, having been out of New York since 2003, Roger was looking forward to coming up and in on Mike Piazza again. Alas, Mike was in Oakland and the Mets he was encountering had already given themselves their own close shave. Leading off the first game of the second part of the 2007 intracity six-pack, Jose Reyes informs Roger Clemens much of the Metropolitan Area isn’t nearly as worked up over his presence as Waldman was. Jose singles. He doesn’t score, but neither do any Yankees taking on Oliver Perez, who demonstrates an uncanny knack for confounding the Braves and Yankees (where were you in 1999 and 2000, Ollie?). It’s nothing-nothing until the third when speed kills and thrills. The more the better for the Mets. Jose now has a running mate, Carlos Gomez. The rookie’s not as skilled as Jose with the bat — Jose received a Silver Slugger the year before — but he can bunt, which does to get on, and he can run, which he does to steal second. Jose then singles home this third Carlos in our arsenal to break up the Rocket’s shutout. In the fifth, Jose homers. Ollie goes eight. The Mets win, 2-0. In case there’s one more Series between these teams four months hence, Roger can take note that the Mets have a couple of players who can run rings around him.

DAY 4: JULY 6
The first-place Mets are a little sluggish. It happens to the best of first-place teams. Maybe the Mets haven’t been playing like the best of first-place teams, but they are in first place. The All-Star break is almost here. A Friday night in Houston may not be the best spot to keep one’s energy up, not even for the player who’s usually the most vibrant in the land. It’s the eighth inning. There are two out. Jose Reyes is up, with the Mets trailing by four. He grounds to third baseman Mike Lamb. Jose runs toward first not exactly like a lion. It’s too hard to not notice. A fan might choose to look the other way. A manager does not. Willie Randolph removes Jose Reyes for not hustling. The hustle is a dance we are sure Jose knows better than Lola knows the merengue or cha-cha. No, no runner should take a ground ball for granted (Lamb bobbled it but had an easy play), yet, a fan could rationalize, perhaps Jose has to take his breaks where he can get them. He’s not going to have the All-Star game off.

DAY 5: JULY 10
Jose Reyes is indeed back at the All-Star Game. It’s cause enough for me to order a black REYES 7 tee from the event, replicating the NL’s batting practice jerseys (it never really fits). For a second consecutive year, he is voted the starting shortstop. For the first time, however, he will play. In 2006, ex-Met Mike Jacobs had stepped on Jose’s foot in the series before the break and, out of an abundance of caution, Reyes’s services were withheld from the Midsummer Classic in Pittsburgh. Not this time in San Francisco. If Jose is not front and center, he is appropriately adjacent. The star of the pregame proceedings is the player for whom it is said All-Star games were made, Willie Mays. Willie was a Giant in San Francisco, you know. After he was a Giant in New York, before he was a Met in New York. He was an All-Star the whole time. Willie, naturally, had the honor of throwing out the first ball. Actually, the honor belonged to the ball. Anything Willie Mays touched was elevated. And to whom did Willie decide to deliver that first pitch? Who of all the All-Stars available to him did the once-upon-a-time speedster/slugger from the National League team in New York choose as his personal catcher? Why, Jose Reyes, of course. Who else? In the middle of 2007, with Jose Reyes presumably in the midst of a career path that could conceivably land him on a plane with some of the greatest all-around shortstops to have ever played the game, it doesn’t seem incidental to see the 24-year-old paired with the No. 24. Not only does Jose catch the ball from Willie, Willie signs the ball for Jose. “I’ll save that ball all my life,” Jose says. I’ll save the image from that night comparably long.

DAY 6: AUGUST 22
In the fifth inning against the Padres at Shea Stadium, Jose Reyes singles with one out. He takes second when recent acquisition Luis Castillo grounds to first. David Wright walks. Then, with Carlos Beltran at bat, they execute a double steal. Wright can run, you know. Reyes can run, we definitely know. The swipe of third is Jose’s third steal of the night — and his 67th of the season. “JOSE! JOSE! JOSE!” and then some resonate in the Flushing night. We are giddy to be present for the setting of a new one-season record. Roger Cedeño had stolen 66 bases in 1999. It was the most by any Met until now. Now, it’s Jose establishing a new mark with 37 games to go. Who knows how high the record will sit by year’s end? When Carlos drives in both Jose and David, we’re more concerned that the Mets have closed the gap on the Padres to 4-2. It’s a shame we’re losing this game and will lose it, 7-5, despite Jose’s exploits. The Mets still haven’t fully broken free of their competition. The Phillies are in second place, five games out. Atlanta’s right behind them, six out. Still, we’re in pretty good shape. And with Jose batting over .300, keeping his OPS over .800 and piling up those bags, any glitch detected in the program to repeat as division champs and exceed 2006’s accomplishments certainly isn’t his fault.

DAY 7: SEPTEMBER 15
This thing is in the bag. Basically. There was a scare in late August, when the Mets went down to Philly and Jimmy Rollins made like the Devil in a Charlie Daniels song to instigate a four-game sweep, but we’d recovered since then. We’d gotten Pedro Martinez back from a five-month DL stint and at Shea on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, Pedro’s nursed a 3-1 lead through six. We beat the Phillies today and everything will be fine. We should have beaten them last night, but there was a bad call, and the bullpen didn’t do us any favors, and, well, c’mon, get over it. We came into Saturday 5½ up on the Turnpike interlopers. Just take care of business every day. Most days that means Jose doing Jose things. I wonder, though, if Jose is pressing. Fouled out in the first. Popped out in the second. Singled in the fourth, but got himself thrown out trying to steal. The average is below .300. Seemed impossible in April to fathom that it would take that kind of dip, but it’s a long season. Just relax. Jose is Jose. The Mets are the Mets. We have a Magic Number. In the bottom of the sixth, Jose walks. He can do that, pitchers are discovering. Then Jose steals. That’s something pitchers discovered back in 2003, with ex-Met Kane Davis, now of the Phillies, the latest to be reminded. Jose has well over 200 steals in his career. He’s second to Mookie Wilson all-time among Mets, and it’s only a matter of time before Jose passes Mookie for a career like he passed Cedeño for a season. Anyway, we have a 2-1 lead, we have Reyes on second, after which we have Castillo walking, which paves the way for Wright to bat in this inning. David’s been hot as a pistol. This is a terrific situation to build the lead, to get a little insurance. The great thing about Jose being on second is he doesn’t need to be on third to score when a superb RBI man like David is batting. I love watching them ply their respective crafts together, whether on the left side of the infield or from various stations on the basepaths. David at third, Jose at short. David at the plate, Jose on second. The two of them doing their thing in sync. This is as optimal as it gets.

***
And that’s where I wish Day 7 goes blank, but it doesn’t. I know what happens next. Jose Reyes, a five-year veteran, a two-time All-Star, the best in the game at what he does, takes off for third base on the first pitch David Wright sees. Chris Coste grabs it and fires it to Greg Dobbs. Reyes is out easily. Threat over. Inning over. Pedro Martinez gives way to the bullpen.

The simple invocation of the Mets’ bullpen in September underscores that if one is anxious to parcel out blame for what was about to happen to the rest of the 2007 Mets’ season, one would have to bring plenty of postage. Wright was awesome in September. So was Beltran. Moises Alou defied time crafted a thirty-game hitting streak. They’re absolved. Nobody else is. The Greatest (or Worst) Collapse in Baseball History was underway. We didn’t know it on Friday night when we lost to the Phillies, but we began to sense it on Saturday when the 3-1 lead became a 5-3 loss. It was followed by a 10-6 defeat on Sunday, and the hinges were clearly coming loose on the Mets being a prohibitive favorite to return to the postseason because all bets were off.

From seven games ahead with seventeen to play on September 12, the Mets finished one behind on September 30. It would be convenient to say it all turned on Jose Reyes’s misguided attempt to steal third base in the sixth inning on September 15, but it would also be a stretch. Jose Reyes and the Mets spent most of 2007 in first place as team; Jose Reyes and the Mets fell out of first place at the end of 2007 as a team.

Jose’s September was April’s inverse. He would steal again on September 15, in the ninth. It was his 78th bag of the season. It was also his last. The speed game went into hibernation. Then again, it’s impossible to steal second (or third) when you don’t reach first, and Jose basically stopped doing that. His September 2007 numbers were dreadful: a .205 batting average; a .279 on-base percentage; one triple; five steals after five months when he never stole fewer than ten bases.

Yet, for me, it wasn’t his contribution to the descent from first place to second, his personification of the collapse itself, that bugged me. It was that when he took off for third in the sixth on the Fifteenth, I was livid with him for the first time in his career. What kinda stupid…? He was no longer Jose Reyes above reproach. He wasn’t running from pedestal to pedestal, inevitably safe in my mind. He had become, incrementally, just another Met letting me down. Mind you, I didn’t drop him from his slot as my current favorite. I didn’t even care that he danced too enthusiastically for the Marlins’ taste in Game 161 that year, allegedly firing up the opposition during a Met blowout, first inciting a weird-ass brawl (with coach Sandy Alomar getting involved), then stoking the Marlins to jump ugly on T#m Gl@v!ne in Game 162 because motivation is so effortlessly easily converted into runs. I didn’t even notice the dancing from my seat in Mezzanine. Lastings Milledge had just homered and Jose was happy for him and, as I understand it, the two of them tangoed in front of the home dugout instead of inside it; something like that. They’d be scolded for their violation of unwritten rules, for waking up the somnambulant Fish, for noticeably enjoying an uplifting moment amid what had been a crisis atmosphere.

Today that sounds even more ridiculous than it struck me in 2007. It may have been the first instance of Jose Reyes having been born too soon.

***
September’s dive notwithstanding, Jose Reyes’s overall numbers for 2007 were outstanding, as they were again in 2008. One of those Met injuries that doesn’t get solved in the span you think it will sidelined him most of 2009, but he was back in 2010, making his third All-Star team. In 2011, when his hamstrings didn’t nag, he was otherworldly, winning the first batting title any Met had ever won. The Jose Reyes of June 2011 was what you would have expected to see had you been asked to project five years forward from June 2006. Sadly, the Mets weren’t anywhere near as good as they’d been in 2006 and, sadder to me, Jose wouldn’t be around Citi Field, except as a visitor, for nearly a half-decade after 2011. He and I were older, maybe wiser. He was definitely richer. The Marlins got over that fight with him and signed him for a ton of money. Every time he came back to Flushing in 2012, I applauded him heartily and only sort of hoped the Mets would get him out.

The only thing Miami didn’t give him was a no-trade clause (they’re notorious for that), and after a year, Jose was a Toronto Blue Jay, which he didn’t seem to mind. We saw him in Interleague play in June of 2015, then as a Colorado Rockie that August. He seemed to mind that next identity, but by then, with the Mets in first place for the first time since 2008, I’d mostly moved on from thinking about Jose Reyes. I still had my REYES 7 t-shirts, five in all, but none of them was as go-to as any used to be. I had two HARVEY 33s and still sported WRIGHT 5. I even threw a TEJADA 11 into the mix as part of my shortstop separation process post-Reyes. (It also never fit.)

In October of 2015, while we were ensconced in a World Series state of mind, Jose Reyes allegedly threw his wife into a shower door at a resort in Hawaii. I say “allegedly” because a criminal case was dismissed, but it was widely acknowledged what happened. Maybe not why it happened, but what difference did that make? Who does that?

Who clings to a favorite player after that? “Not me,” I’d like to say, though I do have a talent for compartmentalization. I still loved the Jose Reyes who hit and ran and made sizzling, on-target throws from deep in the hole. I still loved the Jose Reyes who made me want to buy those shirts and keep wearing them. The Jose Reyes who absorbed a domestic violence rap from Major League Baseball I wasn’t crazy about. I certainly wasn’t processing his release from the Rockies and suspension from baseball as an ideal avenue to a reunion with the Mets.

But David Wright’s back gave out and the Mets needed a left-side infielder. Surprisingly if somehow not shockingly, here we were again in the summer of 2016, the Mets and Jose, me and Jose. And it was weird. For some Mets fans, it was repulsive. I respect that. If someone who threw his wife into a shower door is who you never stopped seeing when Jose Reyes came to bat, I’m not gonna suggest covering one eye. I mostly saw that character for a while myself.

When the Mets played the Marlins at Citi in late August four years ago, just as they were improbably reconstituting themselves as a Wild Card contender, there was a play at the plate in the bottom of the eighth. Jose Reyes was sprinting from third on a wild pitch unleashed by A.J. Ramos. J.T. Realmuto rushed to retrieve it off the backstop, which, as you know, isn’t a great distance from the plate. The two men collided. Reyes was called safe, but it looked bad for him. He was down on the ground for a while, appearing to writhe in genuine pain.

And for the only time in my life when a Met was in that state, I thought to myself, instinctively, “Good. You deserved that.”

I guess that was my moment in Judgment City. I wasn’t proud of myself, so I made sure to add a thought.

“Now get up and be OK.”

***
Jose got up. He was OK, and he and I were cool again. Not that he knew. Like I said, we’ve never met, but I could get back to not finding his presence on the Mets totally weird. It was something I’d wanted on and off for four years, and when it happened, it felt slimy. Now, with Jose having served the time MLB mandated and undertaking whatever other steps they and the Mets insisted on; and his wife sticking with him; and thumbs up from his teammates, it began to feel like baseball. If I was watching Jose Reyes play baseball for the Mets, I was gonna root for him. I didn’t know how not to. I had too many shirts with his name and number not to.

Reyes contributed positively to the 2016 Mets’ playoff push as much as he had a hand in the collapse of 2007. On a roster constructed by Mad-Libs, he was not only crucial, he was considered a leader. We got to the postseason, all one of game of it, because Jose Reyes came back. He held down third competently. He belted the home run that tied what would eventually be the Asdrubal Cabrera Game. He was home. After that September, I found it odd to come across 2015 highlights and not see him involved. I caught myself mentally Photoshopping him in.

He’d hang around a couple more years, his skills deserting him in rapid fashion by 2018. His head, attached as it was to an unproductive 25th man, was called for as the Mets plunged through the floor in June. I logically knew there wasn’t much benefit to his presence on the field, but I also didn’t think that with the Mets as far gone as they were by summer that it much mattered. Let Jose have his emeritus phase. Let Jose pitch in a blowout. And when the final weekend rolled around, let the starting lineup include leadoff hitter Jose Reyes at short, while batting third and playing third, No. 5, David Wright. Wright worked his stenotic spine off to return to the diamond one final time. He and Jose belonged together out there. For them, the self-described baseball brothers. For us, too — at least the segment of “us” that didn’t have an existential problem with the Mets’ all-time shortstop playing out his string where he’d begun unfurling it fifteen years prior.

It was emotionally outstanding seeing those two as one one more time. As Natalie Cole dueted with Diana Krall, it was “better than cream cheese and bagels,” and what two New York staples went better together than Reyes and Wright? I could have watched Jose and David in tandem forever. Circa September 2006, I thought I would. By September 29, 2018, all I wanted was for them to embrace on the field one last time and for me to embrace them through the television while they did.

On September 30, the very next afternoon, Jose started again at short. It was his de facto farewell. He hadn’t announced he was retiring (that would take nearly two more inactive years), but his contract was up, he’d batted under .200, and the last teenage Met had passed 35, so, yeah, the last game of the year wasn’t subtle in its symbolism. I was there. When it became clear that we were seeing Jose Reyes play in a Mets uniform for the final time, I stood and applauded his ceremonial removal. The ensuing “JOSE! JOSE! JOSE!,” nudged with a cue from Citi Field’s A/V squad, couldn’t have sounded any less spontaneous — akin to what Charlie Brown said about hot dogs and baseball games, JOSE! JOSE! JOSE! doesn’t taste right without a cycle — but how could you not score this departure this way? When Jose left as a free agent in 2011, the exit was atonal even before anybody realized nobody extended him a substantive offer to stay. Jose made a right turn from first base in the first inning after elevating his average to .337, secure enough for a batting crown, and left his fans wanting more. Seven years later, he couldn’t be accused of doing the same. Some Mets fans had seen all they’d wanted before he returned in 2016. Some were volubly astonished he’d avoided designation for assignment let alone unconditional release throughout 2018. But he had returned and he had survived, and now he was saying a proper goodbye, just as David had the night before. It was less of a moment, but, despite my five-to-one Reyes-to-Wright t-shirt ratio, I have to admit WRIGHT 5 earned the more spectacular sendoff.

Yet, to me, there was no doubt Jose earned that last round of JOSE! JOSE! JOSE!s. The way he hit. The way he ran. The way we sang. It was, per Ms. Cole and Ms. Krall, better than anything except being in love.

PREVIOUS METS FOR ALL SEASONS
1962: Richie Ashburn
1963: Ron Hunt
1964: Rod Kanehl
1966: Shaun Fitzmaurice
1969: Donn Clendenon
1970: Tommie Agee
1972: Gary Gentry
1973: Willie Mays
1977: Lenny Randle
1978: Craig Swan
1981: Mookie Wilson
1982: Rusty Staub
1983: Darryl Strawberry
1986: Keith Hernandez
1988: Gary Carter
1990: Gregg Jefferies
1991: Rich Sauveur
1992: Todd Hundley
1993: Joe Orsulak
1994: Rico Brogna
1995: Jason Isringhausen
1996: Rey Ordoñez
1998: Todd Pratt
2000: Melvin Mora
2001: Mike Piazza
2002: Al Leiter
2003: David Cone
2004: Joe Hietpas
2005: Pedro Martinez
2008: Johan Santana
2009: Angel Pagan
2010: Ike Davis
2012: R.A. Dickey
2013: Wilmer Flores
2014: Jacob deGrom
2019: Dom Smith

9 comments to 7 Days

  • Dave

    Good job, Greg, that was fair and balanced. Of all of the Mets For All Seasons, perhaps none are more complicated; we certainly have seen Mets players engage in off-field behavior ranging from puzzling to repulsive, but Reyes seems to draw the widest range of reactions. I think it’s because earlier, he wasn’t simply so exciting to watch, but I keep coming back to that smile. He took such joy in the game we all love, and it didn’t look like he was gloating. He was simply having a great time playing baseball. We’ve had others fall from grace (if in fact they ever did elevate themselves to that state to begin with) who we knew were damaged and troubled, to the point where their questionable or abhorrent behavior didn’t surprise us much. Learning what Reyes did, even though he was years removed from wearing blue and orange, so destroyed positive memories for so many. My wife pivoted from “I still miss my Jose” while he was in exile to “he’s dead to me.” I joined her, and have been vocal about it; been called all kinds of names by total strangers online, and in fact it was a tweet you sent out not long ago linked to his account where I learned that Jose Reyes is the most famous person who has blocked me on Twitter.

    But I still can’t forget that he was the most exciting player to ever wear a Mets uniform, and I hope we get another player with his skills and his love of baseball to cheer for again one day. I just hope when we do, it ends better.

    • Thanks Dave. Had Jose’s “All Seasons” season been 2006, I think I could have treated The Aftermath lightly and felt justified, but 2007 brings out the heaviness in everything.

  • eric1973

    I was there on JUN21, 2006, when Jose hit for the cycle against Cinn., the 9th cycle in Mets history, according to my ticket stub. What a moment.

    It was the first Mets cycle in a Mets loss, as Billy Wagner blew the save, giving up 2 walks and 2 hits, and we all left shocked.

    I believe it was also the day they gave out the Shea Stadium replica Tin Can, which I still treasure to this day.

  • eric

    Write-up on Jon Olerud, please.

  • open the gates

    Well, since you brought it up, I was there the night Olerud hit for the cycle. And the triple was more fun to watch than the home run.

  • open the gates

    And getting back to Reyes, I had trouble adjusting to him coming back here after the domestic incident, and I also had trouble (though nowhere near on the same level) with his taking himself out of that last game to guarantee himself a batting title. At the same time, Jose was such a transcendent force on the Mets during his prime, he has to be part of the story. And strictly between the lines, his Mets career would have looked much better if he had departed after the 2016 season. But real life can be messy, and as we keep forgetting, athletes are real people. I’ll echo Dave’s sentiment – you did a good job with a difficult subject matter. David Wright is much easier to write about.

  • Daniel Hall

    I am positive that a TEJADA 11 shirt fits nobody but TEJADA. :-P

  • […] Mora 2001: Mike Piazza 2002: Al Leiter 2003: David Cone 2004: Joe Hietpas 2005: Pedro Martinez 2007: Jose Reyes 2008: Johan Santana 2009: Angel Pagan 2010: Ike Davis 2012: R.A. Dickey 2013: Wilmer […]