Ruben Tejada's actions show he gets it now

Mets' Ruben Tejada gets ready for batting practice

Mets' Ruben Tejada gets ready for batting practice during spring training Monday Feb. 17, 2014 at Tradition Field in Port St. Lucie. (Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa)

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - From the moment he set foot in camp last season, nothing went right for Ruben Tejada.

First came the whispers about his physical conditioning, followed by an error-filled April that served as a preview of his cursed season. By midsummer, Tejada had been injured and marooned in the minors, and the team's discontent had seeped on to the airwaves.

In a radio interview, general manager Sandy Alderson griped that getting the shortstop to do extra work was "like pulling teeth.'' The Mets appeared to be finished with the 24-year-old, who had been seen as a critical piece of the team's rebuilding project.

"You want to do everything good,'' Tejada said this past week as he looked back at the most tumultuous season of his career. "But it's impossible.''

Indeed, it is impossible for Tejada to turn back the clock and for the Mets to seek a do-over. But both sides hope it still is possible to move forward, especially now that Tejada has taken the first step.

He spent eight weeks of his winter at a Michigan conditioning camp, where he slimmed down so he could re-establish himself as the Mets' shortstop. Upon his arrival at spring training, he has drawn praise from the same voices that had once criticized his work ethic.

"The only promise I make is that I'll go every day to the field ready to work hard and play hard, to try to do the best for me, my family, for everybody,'' Tejada said. "That's the only promise I make every time.''

Even as his standing within the organization plummeted, Tejada remained true to his quiet nature, shying away from extended comments about a season in which he hit .202. But Tejada now paints a picture of a young player who failed to deal with his early-season struggles, creating the conditions for a lost year.

"There was too much thinking about the errors and the bad moments that happened,'' he said as he looked back on his brutal 2013. "That's why I'm trying to separate the days and [approach them] the same way.''

Tejada said he was surprised by the questions about his conditioning, which he had heard mostly through the media. Initially, the Mets allowed time for him to play his way into better shape, but his struggles continued. Only in May did manager Terry Collins broach the topic with the underachieving shortstop. Even then, Tejada said he was never given direct instructions to lose weight.

"It surprised me because I know this is my job, my profession,'' he said. "I tried to work hard every day to come here in good shape.''

By September, any ambiguity was gone. Collins summoned an injured Tejada into his office at Citi Field, where they discussed how the shortstop could get back on track. The answer would come at a conditioning camp in frigid Michigan, far from Tejada's home in Panama.

It didn't matter that he would spend eight weeks in freezing weather, or that he would sleep on a hotel bed after wrapping up a grueling season. For Tejada, the decision was easy.

"I didn't come [to Michigan] to play around,'' he said.

Once at the camp, Tejada adhered to a structured workout regimen designed to improve his quickness and agility. Instead of the rice and beans he said he would have eaten in Panama, he stuck to a strict diet in Michigan. He was given prepared meals that included smaller portion sizes.

All the while, Tejada worked through constant rumblings about the Mets searching for a possible replacement. But just as he had done during the season, he kept "really quiet,'' never giving in to anger.

"If I do something crazy, that's bad for me,'' Tejada said. "I know when I'm mad, it's completely different. I don't want to stay in that place, in that situation. That's the point. It doesn't help me. I don't win there.''

Instead, Tejada turned his focus to taking advantage of "a new opportunity.''

"It's a good thing,'' he said. "I have the opportunity to make every adjustment . . . to stay happy with me, happy with the front office, happy with the fans, happy with everybody.''

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