David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
TORONTO - Jose Reyes grew up in the Mets' farm system idolizing Derek Jeter, and when he summoned the courage to approach him during the Subway Series of his rookie year, way back in 2003, the Yankees' shortstop immediately put him at ease.
Standing at second base, with Reyes eyeing him nervously, Jeter yelled over, "Hey caballo!" -- using the Spanish word for horse.
From that night at Shea Stadium, the two have chatted whenever crossing paths, something that happened frequently during the decade both shortstops played at opposite ends of the Triborough Bridge. Even now, sitting at his corner locker in the Blue Jays clubhouse, Reyes recalls that moment, saying it was "an unbelievable feeling" to finally meet his "favorite player."
Reyes thought of that again before Wednesday night's game because he had a chance to catch up with Jeter the previous night when J.A. Happ nailed Robinson Cano. Bad for Cano, but good for Reyes, who got to talk with Jeter for a while during the injury break.
Turns out they had plenty to discuss. With Reyes sidelined earlier this year for nearly three months because of a severely sprained ankle, and Jeter playing only a handful of games because of numerous leg injuries -- including his own fractured ankle -- that was a big part of the conversation.
But all these years later, Reyes still was too nervous to ask Jeter for a favor before play resumed.
"I was going to ask him if he can sign a jersey for me, so I can have it in my house," Reyes said. "But I got kind of scared to tell him about that."
Jeter laughed when the request was relayed to him Wednesday, and said he would speak to Reyes about the jersey. On a more serious note, the Yankees' captain acknowledged that he does require plenty of extra maintenance this season, not unlike the program Reyes has been forced to follow for most of his career.
"This year has been one big injury the whole entire time," Jeter said. "So yeah, it's definitely been the case. There's a routine you go through to get ready which takes more time than when you're younger. When I was younger, I showed up 10 minutes before [team] stretch and went out to play the game.
"Now you have to get in the hot tub, you have to make sure you're loose, and then there's a few more things you have to do after that. I hope I don't have to keep tending to injuries. It's pretty frustrating."
Welcome to Reyes' world. Only 30 years old, Reyes shows up at the stadium around 1 p.m. for a night game to undergo two hours of treatment, every day, to preserve his legs. That includes massage, plunges in hot and cold tubs, strengthening exercises. All that, and Reyes' rehabbed left ankle still doesn't feel fully recovered, and now his right knee is aching from trying to compensate.
That's what Reyes emphasized to Jeter, who has landed on the disabled list twice with apparent compensation injuries from the fractured left ankle -- a right quadriceps strain, and three weeks later, a right calf strain.
"It's all connected," Reyes said. "The problem is you try to change your style of running because you're trying to protect the ankle and then you hurt some other stuff. You need to stay on top of that."
Ironically, Reyes says his hamstrings -- the longtime problem area during his Mets' tenure -- have been "perfect" the past two years. As for this season's ankle injury, he doesn't expect to be 100 percent again until spring training. When Reyes drives pitches into the gaps now, he pulls up at second. In 65 games, Reyes has yet to hit a triple.
"It's unbelievable," Reyes said. "I'm more careful now. I'll wait until next year."
In this injury-shortened season, getting the chance to play across from Jeter again has been a highlight for Reyes. He even posted an Instagram photo of the two standing together at second base on Twitter, and caught some flak for calling Jeter "my idol" in the tweet.
"I was so happy to see him," Reyes said. "The kind of player that he is, the kind of person that he is, just to be able to do what he does for one organization through his career, it's amazing. He's a legend."