From 2003 to 2011, Jose Reyes was a force for the New York Mets.
A highly skilled and multi-faceted player, he brought to the game speed, hitting ability, power and defensive prowess. And he was a captivating and infectious presence -- exhibiting a joyful spirit, fiery desire and buoyant camaraderie.
He was among my favorite athletes and many Mets fans shared my appreciation for him. When the Mets competed in the playoffs in the late 2000s and Reyes stepped to the plate, the crowd routinely serenaded him with a tune of their making: José…José, José, José…José…José.
After eight highly productive seasons, Reyes had established himself as an All-Star caliber player and then, in 2011, his performance surprisingly improved. He led the league in hitting with a .337 average and posted a career-best and highly formidable on-base average of .384 and slugging percentage of .493. At that point, he appeared positioned for Hall of Fame consideration.
Then, having become a free agent, he departed the Mets for a long-term and lucrative contract with the Miami Marlins and the conventional expectation was that, there, he would be a dominant player for a competitive team for the remainder of his professional baseball tenure.
However, the narrative would not unfold as such. The Marlins suffered, finishing in its division’s last place, and Reyes’ performance was solid but not stellar, and after seasons’ end he was dealt to the Toronto Blue Jays. There, he contributed significantly for two seasons, though not with the same degree of productivity and gravitas he enjoyed while with the Mets. Then in the midst of the 2015 season, he was traded to the Colorado Rockies, where he struggled, putting forth his worst-ever offensive output for a team with a home-park renowned for its hospitality to hitters.
Then, in the off-season, Reyes became mired in personal crisis. He was accused by his wife of domestic abuse and he received a suspension from Major League Baseball. Ultimately, his wife opted not to pursue criminal charges, and Reyes expressed remorse regarding the incident. When the suspension concluded, the Rockies parted ways with Reyes, and he was thus on the marketplace.
The Mets, which had been projected to repeat an appearance in the playoffs and perhaps again compete in the World Series, having been been besieged by injuries and beset by inept offense, opted to re-unite with Reyes.
I regarded the move with ambivalence as did, it seemed, the majority of fans and media members. Our memory of the deft and charismatic athlete was fond, we needed him on the team, but how were to regard his apparent trespass?
Though transferred from shortstop to third base, he was granted an everyday position and placed directly into the first slot in the batting order, where no one has measured to his standard over the last five years.
And while his renewed tenure with the team has been relatively brief, he appears to be performing like the player to whom Mets fan had become accustomed. In his 15th season, when we would expect decline, his slugging percentage is robust and his batting and on-base percentages are hovering near his career averages. And his defense remains strong. And he is still stealing bases.
Perhaps more interestingly, he appears to have retained his pure enthusiasm for the game, and that this quality is proving contagious.
I find myself closely monitoring Reyes’ performance, along with my own reactions, and I feel conflicted. I mull such questions as: we do not know the details of what occurred between Reyes and his wife so how can we properly assess that situation?; and assuming Reyes did commit domestic violence, should the act be considered irredeemable?
I expect I could never embrace Reyes as before, but I question myself about the source of this feeling. While I believe that harmful behavior should result in consequences, do I have the right to pass moral judgment on others – especially those with whom I am personally unacquainted -- knowing I have no genuine insight into their psyche and circumstances? Do my reactions to the misdeeds of others actually reflect my own discomfort with the recognition that perhaps under duress I am capable of similar transgressions? Can and should I accept and attempt to understand people in all their complexity and contradictory parts, even if they have acted in ways that seem grievous and unforgivable?
With Reyes as a catalyst, the Mets have won four of five games and returned to playoff contention. Should this trend continue -- so likely will my unease.
Amidst so much turmoil in society and the pressures in my own life, maybe I am mourning that I cannot fully find a haven in sports.
Though they surely offer a magnificent outlet and respite -- for which I will forever be grateful.