9:03 am Apr. 25, 2012
Maybe a week ago, when the New York Mets were 7-3, Tuesday night might have felt more like meeting an old flame for coffee to talk over good times.
Instead, Jose Reyes's return to Citi Field for the first time since leaving the Mets for a six-year, $106 million contract offer from the Miami Marlins—after he got no real offer at all from the New York Mets—started with a paltry display of magnanimity from the cold, windswept crowd the Mets announced as reaching 20,192, and went downhill from there.
By the end of the night, the crowd was jeering Reyes for completing an 0-for-4 day in a 2-1 Mets win over the Marlins, and not in a particularly light-hearted way. This mockery was angry, if not joyless.
Which is not to say it was hard to understand: The previous 24 hours had been particularly cruel. First, the Mets were crushed in a doubleheader by the San Francisco Giants Monday, 6-1 and 7-2, getting routed early on in both games. Then on Monday afternoon, New York announced that starting left fielder Jason Bay was headed to the disabled list with fractured ribs, and worse, Mike Pelfrey was likely out for the season with an elbow injury. The team's lack of depth meant there were no obvious replacements for either.
Add in the epic struggles of first baseman Ike Davis, and the poor recent pitching performances from the starters who remained healthy, and the Mets were looking, after a surprisingly good start to the season, like the ill-equipped unfortunates everyone expected them to be after their ownership-mandated downsizing.
Presumably, the sight of the beloved star shortstop who bailed on New York for Florida was too much.
Roughly 75 fans stood near the third base line, first watching Reyes take batting practice, then cheering his infield drills as he scooped up grounders and fired them in that familiar, effortless way to first base. Some held signs, the largest of which read: Jose Reyes, 2003-2011. The number seven jerseys and shirts were everywhere.
But Reyes' return wasn't the event it might have been. Most of the seats at Citi Field were still empty at 7:02, just eight minutes before the scheduled start of the game, when the Mets, without introduction, began playing a roughly 60-second video of highlights of Reyes as a Met, punctuated by a Bob Hope-like "Thanks For The Memories." The applause, with some boos mixed in, were pretty anemic.
How the evening would have gone if Reyes's first at-bat turned out differently, we'll never know. He took a Johan Santana fastball for ball one. Then he launched a drive deep into left-center field. Kirk Nieuwenhuis made a fantastic, leaping catch, his back bumping against the wall as he came down.
"I thought I had it," Reyes said, chuckling, of the long fly ball, during his postgame conversation with about a dozen reporters just outside the Marlins' clubhouse at Citi Field. "I guess not."
The play drew as big a cheer as the small crowd could muster, and from then on, their decision seemed clear: Reyes was the opposition, period.
Never mind that the only reason Mets fans were forced to choose between Nieuwenhuis and Reyes, rather than have the more appropriate option of rooting for both, was an ownership group that simply didn't have the money to retain Reyes. And never mind the years and effort Jose Reyes had put in playing for the New York Mets, or that another option, rather than cheer him or boo him, would have been no response at all.
The boos got louder when Jose Reyes grounded out to Ruben Tejada in the third, and when he flew out to Lucas Duda in the sixth. By the time Duda caught a lazy Reyes fly ball in the eighth inning, Reyes could have been Jimmy Rollins or Chipper Jones.
"Some of the fans, they showed me love," Reyes said. "Some of them not. I understand that. I play for another team now."
After the game, I asked Eddie Boison, the Mets fan better known as Cowbellman, why he thought the fans had turned on Reyes. He said he believed that the fans weren't booing Reyes so much as expressing their general unhappiness with the current situation that is the New York Mets.
Boison said that he didn't boo Reyes. But after the first at-bat, he didn't cheer him, either.
"Just the first time, then nothing," Boison said. "He's the enemy now."