Jose Reyes And The Joy Of Baseball

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Ok, first off, yes, I'm one of those old stick-in-the-mud, crotchety types who doesn't like newfangled things like all the dancing and twirling that has infested baseball over the past decade or so or the over-the-top antics of a Jose Valverde or Joba Chamberlain. But, on the other hand, baseball is (or can be) a fun, entertaining game. I, like most of you, work all day, all week long, and whether it's in an office or wherever, for the most part your job, like mine, is probably not fun, so we watch baseball to escape from our doldrums. Which means the game should at least be somewhat pleasurable and amusing. Of course, it often makes us angry and frustrated, but that's another story.

Willie Mays recently celebrated his 80th birthday, and there hasn't been a player who played with more joie de vivre than the Say Hey Kid. And he had a little hot dog in him thrown in for good measure, what with his basket catches and slightly-too-big cap flying off his head for dramatic effect every time he whirled around the bases or sprinted for yet another acrobatic play in center field. Which brings us to Jose Reyes. The maybe-soon-to-be-former-New-York-Met Jose Reyes. He brings the same enthusiasm and zest to the game of baseball that Mays did back in his day.

There may be better players in baseball than Reyes (and smarter), but is there a more electrifying, exciting and thrilling one? He joyfully runs around the field, tongue wagging, and is almost always smiling. And who gets more excited than he does after sliding into third after another one of his patented triples? Mays used to occasionally join the kids of New York City for an afternoon stickball game, and it's easy to imagine Reyes doing the same. He brings a childlike innocence to almost everything he does. Like Mays, there's a bit of hot dog running through him as well, but it's not of the scowling, look-at-me, showboating variety, but the naïve, life-is-fun brand.

But while he plays the game as if he were still in Little League, Reyes has finally outgrown his immature ways of days past. He's almost 28 and is all grown up. But a mature Reyes doesn't mean a watered-down, dull Reyes. He's fun. But he's an adult now. Sure, he still baffles with a harebrained baseball IQ at times, as he showed on Saturday with a pair of base-running blunders. He's no Mays when it comes to base-running smarts, who was one of the wiliest, intelligent players on the base paths. But the tantrums and brooding are gone. And Reyes hustles during every at-bat. A single is always an opportunity for a double, and a double is just another chance for a triple.

His lifetime on-base percentage may be low for an ideal leadoff hitter, but he brings so many other elements to the game, that he makes up for his lack of bases on balls. He's not a punch-and-judy, slap hitter. He's an extra-base machine. How many times do you blink, and there he is standing on third? He doesn't need a second-place hitter to move him around the bases. Reyes is an instant run all by himself. And he wreaks havoc among pitchers, catchers and infielders with his speed. The Met shortstop is the engine of the team, and it may be a cliché to say "As Jose Reyes goes, so go the Mets," but he sure makes them more fun to watch.

With rumors running rampant that his Met career may be ending soon, we need to stop and appreciate what we have and have had right before our eyes the last eight years. Reyes is one of the all-time greatest Mets and near or at the top as the all-time most exciting Met. At times his zeal and passion has been misunderstood, especially by his opponents, but one after another who comes to the Mets and watches him on a daily basis gushes, "I didn't know he was this good." He may not be a sabermetrician's dream come true, but when thinking of the pure joy of baseball, Jose Reyes' name comes instantly to mind.

Reyes may soon be gone because of money or because Sandy Alderson may not view the shortstop as his type of guy, but his exuberance, exhilaration and electricity isn't often seen in the major leagues. Met fans treasure their happy-go-lucky, puppy-dog-like shortstop, but does Sandy Alderson? And at what price? Those are the questions. But while he's still our Jose Reyes, let's sit back and enjoy the show, warts and all.

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