By Brad Kallet
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When the Mets signed Jose Reyes to a minor league deal back in late June, the team was doing all it could to keep its season alive.
There wasn’t much time for retrospection. The Amazins’ were merely getting by and, considering Reyes was coming off a two-month suspension, the reunion was hardly met with universal praise.
But as the fall and winter months have dragged along, and the offseason has gotten slower and slower, it has finally sunk in that, almost improbably, No. 7 is back in New York after a wildly successful first stint in Queens.
He will never be nearly as beloved by Mets fans as David Wright, whom he broke into the majors with, but Reyes was actually the better and more exciting player when those two patrolled the left side of the infield in the mid-to-late 2000s.
It’s easy to forget. All these years, roster moves and headlines later, it feels like ancient history.
But I’m not here to compare Wright and Reyes. The captain has done — and hopefully will continue to do — great things for this franchise, and he’ll go down as one of the greatest and most important players to ever wear the blue and orange. Reyes’ story, however, is a different one, and everybody thought that his Mets chapter was over when he signed a six-year deal with the Marlins in December of 2011.
Over the next four years, Reyes bounced around the majors, from Miami to Toronto to Denver. He never reached the heights in those cities that he did in New York, and his superstar status fell off. He remained impactful, but his aura was all but gone. Once the most electrifying player in the sport, he was just another guy wearing a uniform. In late October of 2015, Reyes’ character was disgraced when he was accused of shoving his wife in Hawaii.
Out of baseball for the first part of 2016, he reunited with the Mets, who drafted him in 1999 as a 16-year-old with raw potential.
Now 33, Reyes was a boon for the Mets, shifting to third base in Wright’s absence and providing value out of the leadoff spot. The four-time All-Star hit .267 with eight home runs, 24 RBIs and nine stolen bases in 60 games.
Fans fell in love with Reyes all over again, and in November the team picked up his option for the 2017 season. He’ll serve as a super utility man and spell Wright at third, Asdrubal Cabrera at shortstop and Neil Walker at second. He might even see time in Terry Collins’ outfield.
In February, Reyes will report to Port St. Lucie for spring training for the first time in six years. No longer the Mets’ savior, he has vowed to do whatever’s asked of him to help this team win a championship.
“If they need me to catch, I’ll catch,” Reyes told SNY this week. “If they need me to pitch, I’ll pitch. Whatever they need from me, I’ll do it … This spring training is going to be a lot different for me, just playing baseball out of the gate. I’m very excited about it.
“I think it’s going to be a fun 2017.”
Wouldn’t it be something if Reyes helped the Mets end their World Series drought 14 years after he debuted with them as a wide-eyed teenager? If, as a contributor rather than a game-changing catalyst, he finished what he started?
“This is a situation that I was looking for for a long time,” Reyes said this past summer upon his return. “And, like I said, coming back here, it feels like I’m home. That’s the main thing for me. I feel comfortable … I feel like I am part of the family here in New York.”
When Reyes first stepped foot on the Citi Field — err, Shea Stadium — grass, he was a 19-year-old kid with his whole career ahead of him, and just a few years later he was on pace to be a Mets legend. He didn’t become one. Now back home half a decade later, as a grizzled veteran still chasing that elusive ring, he has an opportunity to finish as one.
Brad Kallet is the managing editor of TENNIS.com and a frequent contributor to WFAN.com. Follow him on Twitter @brad_kallet