Jay Bruce stepped up to the plate 5,002 times in a Reds uniform. He still owns a condo in Cincinnati and knows the nooks and crannies of the city. So when he returns to Great American Ballpark for the first time since being traded to the Mets a month ago, he expects to be a little emotional. He expects it to be a little weird.
But goodbyes can be like that.
On Monday, Bruce’s nine-year tenure as a Red will be commemorated in the most demonstrative way possible. He was told there’s going to be a ceremony before the game, he said. His wife and son will be there. “It’s going to be a little bit of everything,” he said. And when all that is over, he’ll play the game for the opposing team, hope to leave there with a win, and start working on selling that condo.
“I’m sure there will be some emotion to it,” he said. That’s saying a lot, considering Bruce clarified earlier that he tries to turn emotion off for the entire season.
“I think every player wants to finish their whole career in one city, ideally, but that rarely ever happens anymore,” he said. “The writing was kind of on the wall (for the trade), so you know, I was prepared for it. It’s a tough part of the game . . . and I was excited for the opportunity to come get in a playoff race, and that’s not something people get a lot of opportunities to do, either.”
Bruce said he doesn’t presume he’ll get any particular reaction from the crowd, though that may be a little naïve. As a Red, he was a fan favorite, a homegrown talent who spent a dozen years in the organization and seemed to like it, no matter how low the team got. He was a three-time All-Star and a two-time Silver Slugger. He has hit 135 homers at Great American Ballpark, the most in its history. When he left, he was hitting .265 with 25 home runs and 80 RBIs.
He had been the subject of trade rumors for two seasons, and handled it with the grace of a veteran who not only knows baseball is a business, but believes it. His teammates weren’t quite as easygoing. When the trade finally happened, it shook up the Reds clubhouse so much that pitcher Homer Bailey told a local television channel that his team had made a bad move.
“Unless we got a young Robinson Cano, I think they got that us on that one,” he said, referring to Dilson Herrera, whom the Reds received in the trade.
Since that day, Bruce has struggled, although he said he’s certain he’ll come out of it. He’s hitting .210 in 29 games as a Met. He has four home runs and 10 RBIs with his new team, and these days, when he comes to the plate, he hears boos, not “Bruuuu.” His single and two-run homer Sunday night against the Nationals might help to start changing that.
“He is as frustrated as anybody that he hasn’t come in and tore it up the way he was,” Terry Collins said. “He’s a tremendous guy. He’s really a good guy to have in the clubhouse. He’s an upbeat guy.”
But upbeat won’t be winning the Mets a wild card, and Bruce knows it. He doesn’t think a trip to his old haunt will recalibrate anything, but he does believe he’s making progress.
“I still feel in control of my at-bats, and the last few games the results have been better,” he said. “I try not to get too emotionally tied to the ups and the downs.”
That will serve him well Monday, when emotion will threaten to rule the day, but Bruce doesn’t seem troubled by the prospect. That’s what he says over and over: He wants to go back, he wants to see old friends and visit familiar places.
In short, he wants to say goodbye properly.
“It’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be weird, but it’s also probably going to feel a little bit comfortable, to be honest with you,” he said. “It’s going to be really odd going to the opposite visitors’ dugout, but I look forward to it.”