Exit 117 Posted May 8, 2006 Share Posted May 8, 2006 http://mlb.mlb.com/NASApp/mlb/news/article...t=.jsp&c_id=mlb 05/08/2006 3:30 PM ET Reyes keeps them smiling Shortstop's youthful demeanor keeps clubhouse loose By Jesse Sanchez / MLB.com It's a few hours before a night game on the West Coast, and Mets shortstop Jose Reyes is in familiar form. He's sitting in the clubhouse, he's smiling and, of course, he is chatting up a storm on his cell phone, mostly in Spanish, but occasionally dropping a "yes" or "play" during the animated conversation. With his left hand, he flips through one sports magazine and throws it down, then he flips through another, and then another. His movements, like his demeanor, are carefree and his eyes, like a mischievous child about to put his hand in the cookie jar, shift from side-to-side. No Bluetooth technology in sight, he gives new meaning to the phrase "hands-free" by nuzzling his razor-thin phone perfectly between his leaning head and raised right shoulder. With good reason. Reyes needs to have his right hand unoccupied at the moment. He's about to thump Cliff Floyd's earlobe a couple of times. Make that three times. "He's always messing with somebody and smiling, and that's a good thing," Floyd said. "Some guys get to this level and are so locked-in in doing their job that they forget to have fun. You never have to worry about that happening to that clown. Jose has fun everyday like we did in Little League." Reyes, the unofficial clown prince of the clubhouse, is already royalty back home in the Dominican Republic. To fans at Shea Stadium, he is known as a nutty professor. The Mets hope he can be an All-Star one day. Soon. "He is still growing, kind of like a young colt," Mets manager Willie Randolph said. "Once he really matures and fills out, gets the game to slow down a little bit in his mind, he's going to be among the best. He plays at fast pace and good players know how to slow things down. Once he learns how to slow it down, not the speed, but the whole rhythm, he will be an unbelievable player." This season, Reyes, 22, is hitting .277 with seven doubles and five triples. He also has 11 stolen bases. He is a threat every time he steps on the field. "The way he plays the game, he is a momentum-changer," Mets third baseman David Wright said. "Whether it's a great defensive play or watching him get out of the box on a triple or things like stealing a base, it gives you a boost." Last season, his first as the club's everyday shortstop, Reyes hit .273 with 17 triples, 24 doubles and seven home runs in 161 games. He was limited to 53 games in 2004 and 69 in 2003. This year is his year to shine, he says. "For two years, I had a lot of problems with injuries and people wondered if Jose Reyes could play a complete season," Reyes said. "Last year, I went to the Dominican Republic and worked hard to be ready. I will do the same this year. As long as I keep working hard and stay healthy, I will be fine." He has come a long way. Reyes was born and raised in rural community of Palmar Arriba, not far from the city of Santiago in the Dominican Republic. His father Jose Manuel Reyes worked in a bodega and his mother Rosa stayed at home, raising Jose along with his younger sister Meosote. It was a modest, but happy home. It still is. "I still live in the Dominican Republic because that's where I am from and I can't abandon the people right now," he said. "I can't say that I will never move away to the city, but at the moment I will stay there supporting my people. I love them." Reyes started playing baseball around age 10, and by 15, he was among the top players on the island. He signed in 1999 and made his professional debut the next season in the Appalachian League. He enjoyed a meteoric rise through the Minor Leagues and made his big league debut in 2003. He is still living the dream. "A lot of people see his speed and his arm, but he has terrific hands," Mets third base/infield coach Manny Acta said. "He has great footwork, and to me, he is the best shortstop in the National League defensively right now. In the years to come, he will win some Gold Gloves and his offense is getting better. He's one of those guys you never have to push to work or to play." Work has never been a problem, but Reyes says his ride to the big leagues has not been easy. At times he missed his family, he missed the food, and occasionally, the loneliness made him think about giving it all up. Through it all, he tried to endure the ups-and-downs with a smile on his face. He knows no other way. "I have always been happy this way, since I was kid," Reyes said. "My mom laughs a lot. My father does, too. My mom said, 'Son, enjoy this life God gave you. Keep smiling. You keep smiling and you will stay young.'" Smiling and staying young? Maybe that's where the thumping comes in, or the pranks, or the jokes, or the sprinting everywhere like it's the last day of school. It's definitely where the belly-laughs come from. "He's one of those guys who keeps the clubhouse loose," Wright said. "His attitude is infectious. You get around him, you start smiling and that's what the team needs. You can't even say his name without smiling." Those outside of the clubhouse also get a glimpse of Reyes' charisma and friendly attitude. During games at Shea Stadium, the infielder plays to the crowd with the popular "Learn Spanish with Professor Reyes," a taped skit on the video board in which he teaches fans a Spanish word or phrase. Reyes admits his English is getting better "little by little" so the professor bit is a nice way to have some fun and practice his own pronunciations. That said, he says he is the furthest thing from being a shy person, so using the wrong word in English is not a big deal. He also admits part of the reason he is so comfortable expressing himself in any language is the fact that his real support team is nearby. Very nearby, like in the next room. Reyes' mother and father spend most if not all the season living in New York with their son. "It helps a lot," he said. "When I wake up, I don't worry about eating outside. I always have food on the table served, and for me, that is something special. When you have your family with you all the time, they can advise you when things are not going the way you want. It's a point in my favor, an advantage." The Mets sure hope so. The club is pleased with Reyes' progress so far, but also look forward to the day when he develops into one of the best all-around infielders in the game. "He has gotten better and will get better, but that comes with experience and maturity and learning how to channel your energy and anxiety in certain spots," Randolph said. "It's about learning how to retain what you have learned. Sometimes it takes players a longer time to retain what we are trying to teach him, but I am happy he is on my side." Randolph is not the only one. Ask Wright, Floyd or pretty much anyone within the professor's thumping distance. Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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