Jose Reyes flashed his broad smile, the same one that endeared him to the Mets and their fans. He laughed and played easily while reaching for analogies to describe the latest step of a journey home made possibly only by an ugly arrest for domestic violence.
Later, he’d take the field in his old No. 7 jersey, given to him by catcher Travis d’Arnaud. Though Reyes manned third base — not shortstop — he hit in the leadoff spot.
Reyes received a rousing ovation, when he jogged onto the field for warmups, when his name was introduced, when he stepped to the plate for the first time. With some fans on their feet, Reyes tipped his batting helmet, then struck out on three pitches.
“They showed me a lot of love,” said Reyes, who went 0-for- 4 on a night in which he was serenaded with the familiar singsong chant: “Jose! Jose! Jose!”
Yet no matter how quickly he embraced his old routine, there was no getting around the fact that this iteration of Reyes is not the same as the one that left five years ago.
“I’m a little bit of a different player, there’s no doubt about that,” said Reyes, or at least a more world-weary version.
Now that he has officially returned, promoted from the minor leagues on Tuesday, the Mets will learn whether extending this second chance leads to production on the field. After a fruitless first night, the Mets hope it was a matter of nerves. Even Reyes admitted that he felt like a rookie.
“He was quite excited,” manager Terry Collins said. “Tremendous response from the crowd tonight before the game, during the game. I know Jose. He’ll calm down and he’ll get in the flow.”
At 33, he is still fast. But he’s lost a step, and it’s unclear what actually remains of perhaps the most dynamic position player in franchise history.
Since departing via free agency after the 2011 season, Reyes has passed through the Marlins, Blue Jays and Rockies before returning to the Mets. Though the reception was more befitting of a conquering hero, Reyes returned only because he was cast aside following his arrest for domestic violence.
It was a term that was never uttered by Reyes during a pregame news conference.
Once, Reyes was asked about his Oct. 31 arrest, in which he allegedly threw his wife Katherine against a sliding glass door. He followed with a familiar refrain about second chances and being a better husband, father and teammate. He noted his continued domestic-violence counseling — a requirement under baseball’s newly-adopted policy.
“It feels like I’m home,” said Reyes, whose return after a 52-game suspension and release by the Rockies has also raised some complications.
The Mets have faced some criticism for their eagerness to bring Reyes into the fold, his connection to domestic violence far too fresh for some to stomach. And on the field, Reyes will threaten to displace Wilmer Flores, despite what has been a recent hot streak in place of David Wright, who was placed on the 60-day disabled list Tuesday to make room for Reyes.
Utilityman Matt Reynolds was also demoted to clear space on the active roster.
Collins tersely brushed away questions about Reyes’ role moving forward, refusing to divulge the plan past the next few days. Nor did he provide anything concrete about what’s next for Flores, who may find himself as a utilityman, a role he proved ill-suited to perform earlier this season.
Reyes insisted that he’s willing to play anywhere. Meanwhile, Collins mentioned the possibility of trying the former shortstop in centerfield.
“When you go home, it doesn’t matter where you sleep: in the kitchen, the bathroom, it doesn’t matter,” said Reyes, who has maintained his residence on Long Island. “You’re going to feel comfortable, right? This is my home. So anywhere he puts me, I’m going to be happy.”
Even Reyes himself tempered expectations, cautioning fans: “Don’t get too crazy.” The timing of his promotion seemed somewhat odd. After signing a minor-league deal on June 25, he hit just .176 (6-for-34) in 11 games between Class A Brooklyn and Double-A Binghamton.
“I’m feeling good. It doesn’t matter what you do in the minor leagues, I want to be here,” said Reyes, who was left to declare when he’s ready. “Sometimes you’re not going to get results down there and you come here to the big leagues and you get results, everything clicks for you.”