NEW YORK (WFAN/AP) – The announced attendance was 20,192, the smallest of the season at Citi Field. But those Mets fans in the stands Tuesday night sure could make some noise.
Saying it was an exciting and emotional day, Jose Reyes returned to Flushing for the first time since leaving New York to sign with Miami. He was taken aback by the media swarm waiting for him in the Marlins dugout, then waved to the crowd after a video tribute and received a mix of cheers – and louder boos – most of the night.
“It doesn’t surprise me because I play for another team now,” said Reyes. “Like I said, no hard feelings. I just tried to win this game, but unfortunately we lost it. When I stepped on the field, it was kind of unreal for me, but after the first inning, it all goes away and you just focus on playing baseball.”
The speedy shortstop, who spent his first nine seasons in New York, nearly opened the three-game series with a bang when he hit a long drive to left-center leading off the first inning against Johan Santana.
Rookie center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis ran it down, though, and robbed Reyes of extra bases with a leaping catch at the 385-foot sign.
“I thought I had it,” Reyes said. “I guess not.”
He finished 0 for 4 and the Marlins were shut down by Santana in a 2-1 loss.
Though there were hearty cheers, not everyone at Citi Field gave Reyes a warm greeting. A group of fans in left field chanted his name and held a sign thanking him. Three others perched behind the Miami dugout called Reyes a traitor and wore big, red Xs over his name and number as he played catch next to Marlins buddy Hanley Ramirez.
“Hanley, don’t stand in front of Reyes. He may stab you in the back,” one yelled.
Reyes came out of the season finale last year after a bunt single his first time up, a move designed to protect his NL batting title that also irked many fans. He said his biggest disappointments with the Mets were only making the playoffs once and not winning a World Series. But he said he has plenty of great memories from his time in New York. He is the club’s career leader in runs, stolen bases and triples.
“One thing that I feel proud (of) is I gave you 100 percent when I was healthy on the field,” Reyes said. “I gave you everything that I have every day. … And I have a lot of respect for the fans here because they supported me all the way through.”
Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen had his opinion on the reaction.
“I like it when people boo,” said Guillen. “That means they’re into the game. That’s part of the game. I think Jose gave them everything he had. Whoever cheered for him, God bless them. Those who did not, they have their reasons, too.”
A homegrown star, Reyes was a fan favorite with the Mets before signing a $106 million, six-year contract with the division-rival Marlins in December. He said New York never made an effort to keep him once he became a free agent, but he has put all that behind him.
In the time since Reyes left, Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz reached an agreement in court with the trustee for Bernard Madoff’s fraud victims that gives the club more financial certainty.
Would he have stayed if the Mets had offered him the same deal the Marlins did?
“It’s too late to think about that,” Reyes said. “I know they have other kinds of problems there. I feel bad, I feel sorry for them. I mean, this is a business, man. … I can’t think about that (anymore). Like I said, I have a lot of respect for the owners of the New York Mets and everything and I wish all those people the best there.”
He also said he won’t feel hurt if the Mets give buddy David Wright a lucrative, multiyear contract.
Smiling and laughing on the Miami bench as he answered questions from reporters for 12 1/2 minutes, Reyes said he couldn’t wait to see the package of highlights from his tenure with the Mets that the team had planned for him.
They showed it on the big video board minutes before the first pitch and Reyes watched from the dugout. The screen then read “Thanks for the Memories!”
Reyes popped onto the field, smiled and waved quickly to a sparse crowd that was still filing in and then disappeared back underneath.
“I don’t need to watch the video to know how good he was. I saw it firsthand,” Mets manager Terry Collins said before the game.
Reyes wore a wireless microphone for MLB Productions during the game. Cameras clicked away as he came onto the field for batting practice and enthusiastically greeted a few former teammates.
“The funny thing is, when I got here today, I didn’t even know where the visitors’ clubhouse is. So I was kind of lost,” Reyes said.
Reyes cut his dreadlocks in the offseason to conform with Marlins policy and they were sold for charity. He stayed at his Long Island home Monday night and said folks were friendly in welcoming him back to New York when he walked around the city earlier in the day.
“That’s good to see. That means they still know me here,” he said.
Reyes said he did watch a few innings of the Mets’ doubleheader Monday – they were swept by San Francisco.
Of course, the Mets brought in the fences at Citi Field this season. Reyes peeked out of the dugout to look at the new dimensions for the first time and was asked if he could still leg out a triple.
“If I hit it in the gap, it’s OK. I’m still going to make it, so don’t worry,” he said with a smile.
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