The standing-room-only crowd that stuffed MCU Park on Sunday treated Jose Reyes as if nothing had changed.
His every at-bat was greeted with loud applause. The familiar sing-song “Jo-se, Jo-se, Jo-se” chant, long dormant in these parts, echoed through the building. When Reyes took swings in the on-deck circle, fans pressed closer to include him in their selfies.
After the game, however, a penitent Reyes, to his credit, acknowledged that he is different in a few significant ways.
Although he is thankful to be back home, with the team he never wanted to leave and his family house in Old Brookville, the Mets’ prodigal son realizes the task still ahead of him.
That’s because Reyes also is returning from a 52-game suspension for violating MLB’s joint domestic-violence policy. Last Halloween, he was arrested and charged with domestic abuse for allegedly injuring his wife, Katherine, during an argument in their Maui hotel room. The charges later were dropped, however, when she refused to cooperate with prosecutors.
Reyes’ wife, along with the couple’s three daughters, watched Sunday’s game from a balcony luxury box. He went 0-for-3 with a strikeout, caught two pop-ups and fielded a ground ball at third base. But the real work took place afterward, when Reyes faced the media during a 12-minute news conference and repeatedly apologized.
“I’m a human being,” he said. “People make mistakes. But I’m going to stand up for the terrible mistake that I made and say I’m sorry it happened like that — to my wife, to my family, to all the fans who follow me . . . People that don’t like me anymore, I respect that, because I put myself in that situation. But people need a second chance.”
His baseball journey resumed Saturday when the Mets signed him to a one-year contract at the prorated portion of the major-league minimum, about $277,000 for the rest of the season. It includes a team option for 2017.
As soon as the Rockies started the release process Thursday, Reyes’ agent, Peter Greenberg, said his first call was to Mets general manager Sandy Alderson. The deal was announced only an hour after Reyes was officially released.
A Cyclones official said the team sold 2,500 tickets, pushing the park to its capacity for Reyes’ return. He arrived with his family around noon for the 4 p.m. start, had a third-base tutorial with Edgardo Alfonzo before batting practice and was welcomed with enthusiastic cheers when he sprinted onto the field for warm-ups.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Reyes said. “I know there are a lot of people that still like me here but some of the people think that I am a bad person. They’ve got a reason to. I was a little bit emotional today, just to see the people here still love me. I don’t know what to expect at Citi Field when I get there. But I just want to take it day by day and try to get ready as soon as possible.’’
Reyes said he’s learned through counseling to “be a better man, a better husband, a better dad to my girls” and will do “whatever it takes’’ to fulfill those goals. He also said he and his wife never “broke up” and that his family stayed with him the entire time.
As for any further details about what happened that Halloween night, Greenberg said neither he nor Reyes can talk about the incident because the case still can be reopened if there is cause for it.
As much as Reyes pledged, over and over, to live up to the public’s higher expectations of him as a person, he did want to curtail any thoughts that he is the same player as the one who left as the National League batting champ in 2011. “Let’s put something clear: People still think that I’m going to come here to steal 60 bases, I’m going to hit 20 triples,” he said. “Let’s not get too crazy. That happened a long time ago. I’m 33 now.”
Older for sure. But the apologetic Reyes sounds wiser, too.