By Jason Keidel
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I will make an admission to those of you who bleed orange and blue…
Maybe as much as a third of the Yankees’ fan base are front-running, J.Crew, wine-and-cheese chumps who only go to games because it’s trendy and daddy can afford the ticket. None of them can name a game or a player prior to 1996. Ask who Ron Hassey is and they will likely say a senator from Indiana. As a fan since ’77 ( the year I turned 8 ) I’d like to think I’m not one of them, as I endured the desolate epoch called the 1980s and emerged a fan in the 1990s.
But you, the Queens Crew, the Mets/Jets Shea Stadium legion who have suffered sporting torture for decades, a total of one title since Woodstock, are a true fans.
And thus I think of Jose Reyes, the lightning bug on the bases, who’s leading the league in everything short of English diction. He was born and bred a Metropolitan, a pup who plays with a puppy’s glee. He is, more than anyone on the squad, the reason most of you watch the Mets.
Yet he will not be a Met after this season, if not after July 31.
As a native New Yorker, sports fan, and sportswriter (who happens to work for the flagship station of the Mets) it’s natural for me to ponder the Mets’ shortstop. And, like many of you, I’ve often changed my mind on the matter. And I think I’ve finally arrived at a reasoned, final stance.
Keep Jose Reyes.
Spend the extra dough; cough up the cash for the cachet. Keep the best player on your team who’s also playing like the best player in the National League. As oxymoronic as it sounds, he costs you nothing but money, which, in the Mets’ dubious monetary world, means more than it used to, in the Year of Madoff.
Reyes holds the high card and the club knows it. He and his agent have assumed the perfect posture, as well, forwarding Sandy Alderson’s overtures straight to voicemail. Speaking of overtures, the Mets’ GM has implied on more than one occasion that he plans to take a machete to the team’s payroll, which is not the road to enlightenment or endearment for those of you who crowbar open your wallets for those pricey, Pepsi Porch seats.
Alderson, whose résumé is longer than the Magna Carta, the oddest hybrid of military officer, Harvard Law, and baseball lifer, speaks in scripted platitudes about the club’s approach to Reyes, but we all know he’ll be a bear in the bull market. The former Marine’s marching orders may come from up high, handcuffed by lawsuits and the like.
So as Reyes hangs a “Do Not Disturb” sign on his locker, next to his Spalding glove and scalding bat, he collects not just hits but also dollars and PR points by saying with his disarming smile and dense Dominican accent that he’s just here to “play beisbol” and will worry about money after the Mets make their predictably early and ugly exit from the season before the change of seasons.
Perhaps Irving Picard precludes the Mets from making a righteous play for their best player. I don’t know. I do know that you, who pay the freight despite the increasing chasm between team sports and their patrons, who are increasingly forgotten and taken for granted, don’t buy a beer or hit the John when Reyes wields the bat. And that means something. He’s got charm and a grin as wide and smooth as the Harlem River on a calm summer day
Many of you make very valid assertions about Reyes. He’s won nothing. His next big hit will be his first. He’s been injured more than anyone would expect for such a strong, young man. He is – not coincidentally – having his best year during his contract year. And he’s not worth Carl Crawford money. Hell, Crawford isn’t worth Crawford money.
What large contract isn’t frontloaded? Did you really think Pedro Martinez would pitch like Pedro for four years? Of course not. But the two years he pitched on guts gave the team much needed moxie. He became the de facto logo for a team lacking mojo, losing many miles off his fastball yet still, somehow, beguiling batters. Yes, Pedro was worth every penny.
The Yankees just belched $51 million for a .260 hitter. I don’t care if his name is Derek Jeter. Yes, I know, Captain America and five rings and Yankee Pride and blah, blah, blah. He’s still a .260 hitter and now half the player Reyes is. If the Yankees can give their most cherished player (who isn’t even the fourth best player on his own team) an embellished legacy contract, a slap on the rear for years of great cheer, why can’t the other New York team – with all the perks and new parks and networks – do the same for a stud in his prime?
Forgive the agricultural metaphors, but there’s a reason they call the minor leagues a farm. It’s there to be cultivated, planting athletic seeds so that the brass can walk the land with a large bag and pluck the best fruit for the majors, get the fans geeked up about them, sign them early, on the cheap, for the long-haul. Keep your young studs until they become old salt, wire-to-wire, as it were. Keep them from high school straight through to Old Timer’s Day. The Jeter way.
The Mets can trade Jose Reyes for players who aren’t nearly as good as Jose Reyes, or they can lose him to free agency and pick up draft picks who also won’t be nearly as good as Jose Reyes. Or they can sign him and show the Shea faithful that they give a damn, that your voice is heard. Don’t make Reyes pay because of Jason Bay.
It is one way to reverse the wretched handling of the team for the last few years, from building a park for the Mets and dedicating it to the Dodgers to pledging to take Pledge to Doc Gooden’s signature on a Citi Field wall to Tony Bernazard morphing into Mike Tyson to Omar Minaya accusing a reporter of doctoring the story about Bernazard because he was denied a job with the Mets to, well, hell, you get it…
Feel free to email me: Jakster1@mac.com
Can the Mets be persuaded to keep Reyes? Leave a comment below.