Eight years ago yesterday, the Mets were playing the Texas Rangers in an interleague game. The Mets fell short in that game, losing by the final score of 9-7. It was just another game on the schedule for the Mets, who were on their way to a 66-95 season under first-year manager Art Howe. But one significant thing did happen on June 10, 2003, for that was the day Jose Reyes made his debut for the New York Mets.
On the day before his 20th birthday, Reyes became the first teenager since Dwight Gooden in 1984 to take the field for the Mets. The charismatic shortstop was one of the top prospects in the Mets’ minor league system and was called up to replace Rey Sanchez, who was placed on the disabled list with a thumb injury. Although Reyes started his career with a bang (he hit a grand slam for his first major league homer five days after his debut), injuries sidelined him over his first two seasons in the big leagues. His second season with the Mets (2004) saw Reyes move to second base to accommodate Kaz Matsui, who never lived up to expectations after signing a three-year deal to become the team’s new shortstop.
Finally, in 2005, Jose Reyes stayed healthy for the first time. He moved back to shortstop, displacing the oft-booed Matsui, who moved over to second base. Reyes played in all but one game that season, hitting .273, while banging out 190 hits. He also led the National League with 60 stolen bases, becoming only the second Met to steal as many as 60 bases in a season (Roger Cedeño stole 66 bases in 1999). Reyes’ run of excellence and good health continued over the next three years, when he stole an average of 66 bases per season, including a franchise-record 78 in 2007. He also added power to his game, racking up extra-base hit after extra-base hit. From 2006-2008, Reyes hit 103 doubles, 48 triples and 47 home runs.
Then the injury bug victimized Reyes again, as he was limited to 36 games in 2009. Reyes did come back to play in 133 games in 2010, but without a strong supporting cast around him, his play suffered. He finished the season with 83 runs scored, 10 triples and 30 stolen bases, all of which were career-lows for a season in which he played at least 100 games.
Now comes 2011, a year in which Reyes once again has had to play without a strong supporting cast. Last year, he couldn’t rise to the occasion (although in his defense, an assortment of minor injuries did slow him down a bit). This year, he’s surpassed all expectations and is carrying the team with him. Through the Mets’ first 62 games, Reyes has already surpassed last season’s total for triples. His 11 three-baggers lead the majors, and he also ranks at or near the top of the league leaderboard in batting average, hits, multi-hit games, runs scored, doubles and stolen bases.
Jose Reyes has been special for many years and is now just entering his prime. However, just as he’s in the midst of his best season in the majors, he may also be nearing the end of his Mets career, as free agency is looming for Reyes after this season. Perhaps Sandy Alderson will find a few extra million dollars in Fred Wilpon’s wallet at the end of the season to give to Reyes. Whether or not he accepts the offer is up to him.
However, regardless of what happens to Reyes in the next few months, let us not forget the dynamic player he has been for the Mets. As Reyes goes, so goes the team. If the Mets are involved in a late-inning rally, Reyes is usually involved. If the team needs a spark of life, Reyes will provide the charge.
Since the days of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden, no homegrown player has provided as much excitement to the Mets’ fanbase as Jose Reyes. We’ve watched him grow from an energetic teenager to a sometimes immature superstar to the leader he has become this year.
The team may have changed dramatically since Jose Reyes played his first game eight years ago today, and Reyes has changed quite a bit as well, but one thing hasn’t changed. Jose Reyes plays the game to win. He plays the game to have fun. He plays the game, period. We should be thankful that we’ve been able to watch Reyes play for the past eight years. Talent like that doesn’t come along very often.