From the Archives: Strangled by Reality

Some posts develop over days, starting with some clicks on Baseball-Reference and evolving into research projects and complex posts. Yesterday’s post was that type.

This post was the exact opposite. All emotion, no facts, published late at night and maybe poorly thought out. But it might be my favorite.

Originally Published December 5, 2011

In September I went to see Jose Reyes’ final game with the New York Mets. Accompanied by my father, I had planned to observe Reyes and only Reyes, as he chased the batting title and millions of dollars on a gray afternoon in front of a few thousand fans. I went to see if the way he ran or threw on this particular day would reveal something about him, if there was something I had missed over the years. I went to see if the whispers were amplified on final days, if the meaningful emerges at the end. Maybe I could discern if Reyes was returning based on a few plays from one day.

As we took our seats, in front of the press box and the television announcers, I watched Reyes warm up on the field. He ran sprints from the foul line behind first base into center field, as he always did before games, bringing his knees up high, his long black hair bouncing behind him. When he reached center field, he hugged a Cinncinati Red player, chatted for a moment, and then walked back towards the foul line. He stretched more, making big circles with his arms and running more sprints, before returning to the dugout. We cheered in appreciation and appeal as Reyes drew near and disappeared down the steps.

He reemerged to lead the Mets onto the field before the first pitch. Always the first up the steps, always arriving at his position in the field first, always batting first and scoring the first run, always first, Reyes shook hands with the season ticket holders waiting for him on the infield dirt. He took his ground balls from the first baseman, fielding the hops softly, taking two quick shuffles towards first and then throwing with his distinct sidearm motion. No one in baseball throws like Jose Reyes, with the velocity and the arm slot and the sizzle. I have watched him up close playing catch during batting practice a handful of times. His throws hiss as they pass. I made sure there was always something – netting, an oblivious person, Justin Turner — between myself and Reyes when he was warming up, because every once in a while, that first or second throw would get away. A Justin Turner leaping catch saved a distracted newscaster one hot afternoon in August; she’ll never know.

The top of the inning passed without a fielding chance for Reyes. He led off the bottom of the first inning, met by reserved cheers and the chanting of his name. We were loud, as loud we could be, but still held back for a late inning cadence. Our real appeal would come later. Reyes took a ball, bunted the second pitch down the third baseline, and reached first without a throw. Then he was gone. We looked up and Justin Turner was standing on first base in his place. Reyes left the game and never came back.

“Well,” said my father, “I almost feel like leaving now.” I felt the same way.

We stayed. Some fans and the Cincinnati Reds left early, but those who remained saw Miguel Batista pitch a gem, outfielder Mike Baxter hit a home run, and the Mets win 3-0. But the park was full of sleepwalkers. We wanted to see Reyes, and the show ended before anyone was ready.

Now that show has moved on. Jose Reyes won the batting title, got his $100 million dollars, and then six million more for good measure. He will now play for the Miami Marlins, a wretched and tacky organization playing in a wretched and tacky city teaming with sharks and glowsticks. Reyes is now the employee of childish thieves and malicious deceivers. May those who deserve it be eaten alive, if not by the Security and Exchange Commission, at least by those better at the owners same rotten games. I wish the Marlins ill.

But childish thieves and deceivers tend to be better off than the simply inept, and Jose Reyes will be paid well as a Miami Marlin. Don’t blame him. Reyes worked his entire life for this moment. It’s his. This is what he chose, and wouldn’t we all be lucky enough to choose our paths in life. I shall wish Reyes well 144 times a season and nothing but bad hops the other 18. I hope Marlins fans enjoy his play as we enjoyed him, though I wonder if that’s possible when he was ours first. But, ultimately, I hope it works out for him.

Although we, the Mets fans, are left feeling once again as though maybe we might like to leave. The New York Mets just saw their homegrown star player leave, go off and sign a fair contract with a team in Florida. For the first time, the Mets’ financial struggles have been made real. The rumors, the wildly inflated figures, the introduced and then dismissed investors, the loans from baseball itself, a crumbling empire and a million empty seats: these things were all real, but real only in a theoretical sense. They didn’t affect the team on the field; they only changed the questions reporters asked in the clubhouse. It changed the subtext, but between the foul lines, we were still safe. Now it’s unavoidably real. The Mets, for their big market, television station, and new stadium filled with luxury seats, couldn’t afford to retain their heart. Jose Reyes will not be wearing orange and blue on Opening Day next season. He’ll be dressed in teal and a handsome shade of vomit, his home runs celebrated by the fluorescent, dying visions of disco dolphins.

That final day of the season, I looked for signs of Jose Reyes’ fate in the wrong places. I wouldn’t find them on the field, but they were present. They were in the empty seats, the army of dark green stretching from section to section. They were in the broken chants of the crowd, too small and scattered for cheers to spread through the stadium. The hint was the beautiful park itself, still ahistorical and unloved. It was all right there. The Mets were withering. I just chose not to see it.

Jose Reyes is a Miami Marlin now. The pout, his head bobbing as he shouted something in Spanish and the three sharp claps after a headfirst slide into third – those are now for other fans. There will never be anything else like him, and we’ll miss him. But there will be others, different, and we’ll attach ourselves to them. There will never be another Jose Reyes, but there will be others we’ll love to watch just as much if not more.

At least, that’s my hope. We look to baseball for a respite, finding within the game a meaning in the meaningless, a black and white world with real rules. It’s a world we can understand. It is an illusion, but we need illusions. We need breaks from our temporal lobes. We need the Mets. We’d all go crazy without them. We need to shake our heads at them, laugh at them, and hope with them. We need the dreams and hopes baseball offers. They’re why we come back year after year.

But we never want to feel as if we’re captives in someone else’s dream. How can you love a team when you no longer feel as if it’s yours?

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