PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — As his old friends on the Mets trickled onto the field for batting practice Friday, Ruben Tejada sat alone in the visitors’ clubhouse at Tradition Field.
It had been 10 days since his release from the Mets, six since his signing with the Cardinals. With spring training winding down, changing hotels would have been a bigger hassle than it was worth. So Tejada remained in town, which is why his first game against the Mets began with him beating his new teammates to the clubhouse, looking every bit like the new kid in school.
“It’s the same, the same baseball,” said Tejada, who went 2-for-3 and made an error as the Mets and Cardinals played to a 5-5 tie. “Other team only. Have fun and play hard all the time.”
Tejada, who has been commuting to the Cardinals’ complex in Jupiter, had spent his entire adult life with the Mets, signing out of Panama at age 16 before beginning a steady rise to the big leagues. He debuted at age 20 and spent the next six years riding a wave of wild ups and downs.
The cycle ended on March 16. Unable to find a trading partner, the Mets released Tejada. It was a cost-cutting move, of course, saving them $2.5 million. But team officials also considered it a chance to clear the roster of underbrush, opening opportunities for younger players such as Matt Reynolds.
With that, Tejada’s Mets tenure came to an end, his place in franchise history forever cemented by a broken leg courtesy of Chase Utley’s brutal takeout slide in last October’s NLDS.
“It surprised me a little bit, but I can’t control that,” he said of his release. “I can’t do anything [about] that. They control their decision.”
Draped in the distinctive red of the Cardinals, Tejada admitted there might be some emotions on the field before the game, when he planned to greet his old friends on the Mets. But his focus is on making the most of his new chance.
An injury to Jhonny Peralta created a void to be filled at shortstop. It’s why Tejada chose a one-year, $1.5-million deal with the Cardinals among the four or five big-league offers he said he received after his release.
“It’s a good organization there,” Tejada said. “They have a good team. I know a lot of guys there.”
Still, his ties to the Mets remain intact. When the Cardinals emerged for batting practice, Tejada made the rounds, hugging many of the players with whom he had spent the last decade. Earlier in the week, he FaceTimed with a few of them, including Wilmer Flores and David Wright.
“We’re still friends,” Tejada said. “No matter what.”
Notes & quotes: Noah Syndergaard hit 101 mph on the radar gun. He allowed two runs and struck out nine in six innings . . . Jeurys Familia got roughed up for three runs and four hits while blowing the save in the ninth . . . Wilmer Flores looked smooth in his first Grapefruit League start at first base. Manager Terry Collins intends to play him there at least once more this spring . . . First baseman Lucas Duda, out with a stiff neck, is scheduled to travel on Saturday to face the Braves. Outfielder Yoenis Cespedes will not make the trip with minor stiffness in his shoulder . . . The Mets cut Danny Muno, T.J. Rivera, Ty Kelly and Roger Bernadina. Reliever Buddy Carlyle was released.