On Tuesday night at Citi Field, a boisterous fan on the third-base side of the 300 level rose from his seat to hurl insults toward the hot corner, where Jose Reyes awaited the delivery of Drew Gagnon’s next pitch.
Reyes had not been involved in the previous play, nor had he hit in the previous half-inning, so there wasn’t an obvious reason for the fan to berate him. But the fact that he was even on the field was enough for the exuberant individual to let him have it.
That’s how life in Flushing has been lately for Reyes, 35, and when the stadium is roughly half-empty at 22,416, as it was Tuesday, shouted insults tend to ring through the ballpark.
Reyes, who is in his 16th year and his second tour of duty with the Mets, said he doesn’t pay attention to the boos directed at him (or the team) that often permeate the summer nights at Citi Field. Having seen the highs and lows of the Big Apple, he just focuses on himself.
“I block it out,” said Reyes, a four-time All-Star who is hitting .172/.250/.231 as a super-utility player through 69 games. “I know the fans, they’re upset because they want me to do better. I understand that part. All the negative stuff, to be honest, I don’t care about that stuff. If I’m doing my job, I know everybody would be happy. I’ve not been doing my job so far.”
Reyes’ rather candid self-assessment came before Friday’s 4-2 win over the Nationals, a game in which he entered in the top of the sixth inning and went 0-for-2 with a strikeout looking. In Saturday’s 7-4 victory, he went 2-for-4 with an RBI single in the fifth inning.
All it takes is a quick Twitter search to see how fans feel about Reyes, who has been “playing pretty good baseball lately,” manager Mickey Callaway said Monday.
But in July, Reyes has produced a slash line of .133/.212/.167 in 30 at-bats.Add in shaky defense — FanGraphs rates him as a negative defender at second base, shortstop and third base — and Callaway’s views of Reyes can’t be statistically substantiated.
Perhaps the rationale behind keeping Reyes, aside from the Mets’ laundry list of injured players, is his unofficial role as 22-year-old Amed Rosario’s mentor. The former top prospect is considered the shortstop of the future, and he and Reyes share a multitude of similarities.
Both are from the Dominican Republic. Then there’s the speed, the arm strength and the athleticism, not to mention the vivid energy that’s evident regardless of the score.
Rosario said that’s one of the traits he has learned from Reyes, who still dons his signature smile while talking about his struggles.
“One of the similarities that we have is the energy that we bring to the game every day,” Rosario said through a translator. “He’s very energetic, and I’m learning from that.”
There have been more downs than ups for Rosario during his brief time in the big leagues, although he’s hitting .276 with three doubles and three triples in July. Callaway views Reyes as a key piece in Rosario’s development.
“When they go out there and play third and second and short, they have matching sleeves on,” Callaway said. “They’re obviously very close, and they do a lot of things together. I’m sure they hang out on the road together and eat lunch and things like that. I think it’s a really good, strong relationship that benefits [Rosario] very much.”
Callaway added after Friday’s game that the coaching staff is pleased with the progress Rosario has made.
“We’re elated that the byproduct of all the hard work is starting to show,” Callaway said. “He’s such a good kid, he works so hard, he brings a lot of energy.”
Reyes and Rosario met at Double-A Binghamton in 2016, and Reyes said they have a “very good friendship” that extends beyond the diamond to music, among other topics.
“We have a conversation about baseball basically every single day,” Reyes said. “Every day there’s something I have to tell him or something that he wants to know, and he asks me . . . Even after the game, I’m home, he’s home, and we’ll be texting each other talking about some other stuff off the field.”
Jeff McNeil, a 26-year-old infielder, is knocking on the door in Triple-A, and the argument can be made that if T.J. Rivera or Gavin Cecchini had been healthy in recent months, Reyes would’ve been expendable. Despite his ongoing struggles, however, Mets ownership has refused to part with the franchise icon a second time.
The Marlins signed Reyes to a six-year, $102-million contract after the 2011 season with a $22-million option for 2017, and Reyes said at the time that the Mets didn’t attempt to re-sign him.
From 2005-11, Reyes produced a slash line of .293/.345/.445 with 1,160 hits and 338 stolen bases for the Mets. He led the league in steals in 2005 (60), 2006 (64) and 2007 (78). But if fans are clinging to the hope that he’ll play like the spry young shortstop he was in the mid-2000s, he wants them to know those days are gone.
“Those days are way behind me,” said Reyes, who is playing on a one-year contract worth $2 million. “People have to understand that . . . nobody steals 60 bases in the big leagues anymore. Why are they going to expect me to steal 60 bases? But I feel like I can contribute at a high level.”
The more reasonable fan expects moderate production, like what he provided in 2017: 15 homers and a slash line of .246/.315/.413 in 501 at-bats.
In 2016, the Mets welcomed Reyes back with open arms even though he was suspended for the first 51 games of the Rockies’ season for violating MLB’s domestic-violence policy. Now, it appears as if he has worn out his welcome with the fans.
“I’m a hard worker,” Reyes said. “I come here every day with a positive attitude, working hard and trying to get better and trying to contribute to this ballclub as much as I can. Everybody knows that I haven’t played the way I’m capable of. People expect me to do better.”
JOSE REYES’ 2018 SEASON
.172 batting average
1 home run