Jose Reyes and Ryan Braun are neck-to-neck in the race for the batting title in the National League, but Mets fans are worried that their days of watching their beloved Jose in a Mets uniform may be numbered.
The Mets, long since eliminated from playoff contention, are embarking on a six-game home stand that will conclude their season full of back-page tabloids regarding the club’s financial hardships, underachieving and overpaid stars, and of course the potential final season of having Jose Reyes.
Reyes has a deep history with the organization, the only team he has been with — dating back to his young days in the Dominican Republic in 1999. Eddy Toledo, a scout for the Mets at the time, pressured the team to sign the 16-year-old Reyes after an impressive tryout. Omar Minaya was the head of International Scouting for the Mets at the time and convinced upper management to take a look at him despite his small frame, and Reyes was offered a $22,000 bonus. The team was so impressed that they had him skip the usual process of sending Dominican players to the Dominican Academy to assimilate them and prepare them for the transition to American culture. The team just sent him straight to the minor leagues.
Reyes made an immediate impact though, blowing through Rookie League ball, Single-A, and Double-A, leading the minors in several categories. In Reyes’ first game in Double-A, he had five hits and four RBI. Reyes ended up winning Double-A All-Star honors and was named the Most Valuable Player of the MLB Futures Game in 2002.
The Mets were preparing for Reyes to be their future shortstop, and signed veteran Rey Ordonez to a one-year contract in 2002 to pace Reyes and give him some time to prepare. Reyes was called up a day before his 20th birthday and impressed everyone from the beginning. He had a multi-hit game in his debut and hit a grand slam later that week.
It wasn’t too long after that Reyes became the every day starter for the Mets, becoming a key part of their lineup and infield for years to come. He led the Majors in triples three out of four seasons, and led the National League in stolen bases three years in a row. A four-time NL All-Star, it is not surprising that Reyes also holds the Mets record for runs scored, stolen bases, and triples.
Reyes became a fan-favorite in a hurry. Reyes would be caught on camera with a huge smile on his face and an energetic attitude, regardless of how poorly the team was playing. Reyes became known for taking time out of his pre-game stretching to sign autographs for fans and he earned the respect of the fans early on. He entertained the Shea (and now CitiField) faithful with his Professor Reyes Spanish Academy series on the JumboTron during games, as he would teach fans a new Spanish Word and react to how well they could or couldn’t say the word. He proved to be an essential piece of the organization, from being a fan favorite to his performance on the field.
As it comes full circle, the free-agent-to-be Reyes is still at the top of his game at the age of 28, despite a history of injuries. Whether he leaves or not, he will go down as one of the best players to ever put on a Mets uniform. After having an exceptional season at the plate, Reyes is currently tied with Braun for the National League batting title with a .329 average with just two series remaining in the 2011 season. Braun’s Milwaukee Brewers, who have already wrapped up the NL Central Division Title, are concluding their season with a home stand against the Marlins and Pirates.
Reyes and the Mets hope to end their season on a high note as the star shortstop fights for his first batting title. At least for the CitiField faithful, there is something to cheer about — they just hope it won’t be the last time they cheer for Jose in a Mets uniform.