10:56 am Mar. 10, 2012
JUPITER, Fla.—I assumed I'd be taking my family to watch Jose Reyes play baseball since before I had a family. When Reyes debuted in June 2003, I was well over a year from meeting my wife, and nearly seven years from having a child. But when I purchased that Jose Reyes jersey t-shirt from a Shea Stadium vendor a few weeks after his call to the major leagues, I did so with the feeling that it would merely be the first of many Reyes memorabilia, some men's, some women's, and eventually, some infant and toddler attire emblazoned with number 7.
So as we drove, my wife Rachel in the driver's seat, my nearly two-year-old daughter Mirabelle in back, toward Jupiter to watch Jose Reyes and the Miami Marlins—the Marlins!—take on the Washington Nationals, my feelings were complicated.
As Mirabelle studied the baseball cards of current, lesser Mets, I pointed out to Rachel that the Marlins fans who filled Miami's new ballpark to watch a winner, after having virtually ignored the Marlins in their previous, awful park, were frontrunners. Rachel didn't agree.
“These are people who are finally taking an interest in baseball,” she said. “I don't see what's so bad about it.”
She had a point. Jose Reyes, bought by the Marlins after the Madoff-ravaged Mets could no longer afford him, had a value to a major league team because of the number of wins they derive from playing him. But he’s also one of baseball’s most exciting players.
As a hitter, Reyes' most valuable contributions were often his triples. The thrill of watching a man like Jose Reyes burst out of the batter's box, knowing he'd get a double at least, the crowd's anticipation rising as the ball gets between the outfielders, and seeing him fly into third like a jet touching down on a runway—it's hard to measure.
There were also the stolen bases, cat-and-mouse followed by lightning-quick theft. An athleticism that took him deep into the hole at shortstop to throw laser beams at the first baseman's mitt ahead of the approaching runner. Great dives and leaps to start or complete double plays. Anything that made crowds roar, Jose Reyes did, and did well.
Somehow, I expected the crowd when we arrived at Roger Dean Stadium to be louder, more raucous, the antithesis of what Citi Field so often has been lately, and will probably continue to be without Jose Reyes in blue and orange. Where were the trumpets to hail this conquering hero? When he first strode to the plate to lead off the bottom of the first, he was greeted as—just another player.
He even looked the part, with the Marlins having prevailed upon him to cut off his long dreadlocks. It was part of the unending humiliations, not for Reyes—a well-paid athlete who took the more money from an organization that could afford it. The humiliations were for all of us, who had planned the next decade around rooting for this personification of a baseball ideal.
Reyes grounded out on the first pitch from Washington's Stephen Strasburg, another good bet to grind the Mets into dust for the next few years, and I took a good look around. The number of people sporting variations of the Marlins new uniform colors—black? orange? Who could even tell?—far, far outnumbered anyone with the now-old, teal-based colors of the Marlins.
My wife sagely pointed out that just because everyone was wearing the new colors, that didn't mean they didn't own some teal Orestes Destrade attire that they left back at the house. Perhaps they were just excited about the new team, with acquisitions like Reyes and Mark Buehrle to supplement returning talent like Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo (formerly known as Mike) Stanton.
I regret to say that hadn't even occurred to me.
It's harder to nurture resentment while talking to your enemy in line at the concession stand, or sitting near a group of children out at a birthday party, all wearing those offensive orange Marlins hats with unbroken brims, discussing their favorite Marlins with unmitigated joy. There was the couple sitting in front of us, the man at least with the black and teal jersey that probably dated all the way back to the time of Dan Uggla, who made conversation with my daughter and plied her with phone pictures of their dog and cat.
I returned in time for Reyes's second at-bat, an extended affair against Strasburg with Reyes batting lefty. On the seventh pitch, Reyes got what he wanted, and lashed a line drive between Washington's left and center fielders, bounding toward the wall.
The crowd reacted, well, like a spring training crowd. But this was nevertheless an event—the first of a projected six years' worth of Jose Reyes Triples. The hit brought in Miami's first run, with Reyes running so fast that he nearly passed the man who had been on first at the time of his hit.
My daughter is about to turn two years old. Her childhood memories will only be of Jose Reyes doing that in a Marlins uniform.
When Reyes scored on an Emilion Bonifacio hit, his teammates greeted him in the dugout like a returning king. The Marlins themselves, it would appear, know what they have in Jose Reyes.
Two innings later, Reyes singled to lead off the fifth. From our seats directly over the first base dugout, I explained the battle taking place between Reyes and the reliever, Chad Durbin, to my daughter, who was fading fast.
After Bonifacio failed to get Reyes over with a bunt, and Hanley Ramirez grounded into a double play, Reyes removed his helmet, which was adorned by a logo that seemed made for a poorly conceived baseball film, and waited for someone to bring him his hat and glove.
An inning later, his was taken out of the game, as is the custom during spring training. He happily bounded along the left field line with his teammates Bonifacio and Ramirez—Jose Reyes doesn’t go anywhere at a slow pace. As he reached the left field gate, and a security guard allowed him into Miami clubhouse located just beyond it, he skipped through, disappearing from my family's view.