It struck me the other night like a bolt of lightning. Quite simply, I didn’t miss Jose Reyes. It was unthinkable really. While my mother still purports to forever feel a void on account of his smile, “electricity” and the incredible unique excitement and passion (not to mention immense talent) he brought to the game, I have moved on. And while I’m being semi-dramatic with the whole “bolt of lightning” thing, that very idea – not thinking about the departure of Jose Reyes (now halfway through the 2012 season) – is somewhat unimaginable considering recent history.
Rewind a few months ago. While I was neither zealously on the “trade Jose” nor the “keep him at all costs or I quit being a fan” bandwagons, I ultimately believed (and still do) that it was the right decision for both parties to…well…part. I said it then, and nothing’s changed. Still, it was hard to imagine this lineup with Jose Reyes. Frankly, just looking out a shortstop and not seeing those trademark dreads flailing and that cannon winging balls across the diamond seemed downright weird. Yet, I haven’t missed him. And there’s only one reason why. His name is Ruben Tejada.
Terry Collins started preaching the gospel of Ruben before a pitch was tossed in spring training. He never insinuated that Tejada was Reyes or could ever replicate his skills. But there was something in that voice. Collins made several statements about the organization’s faith in Tejada and each of them carried the same air of confidence and a little touch of “I may know something you don’t know.” The tone conveyed a very clear message. It said: “just trust me, this kid can play.”
As we near the halfway point of the season, Tejada has shown that the memory of Reyes might fade quicker than even the most devoted Jose-Jose followers could have imagined. No one will debate that Ruben Tejada has more talent than Jose Reyes. He does not. Jose is a genetic freak. He’s also all of those things so many who did not condemn the trade talked about and pointed to prior to his departure. He is oft-injured. He can be a diva. He is stupid on the basepaths and careless in general. For all the ways he’s inspiring, he can also be tremendously irritating.
Now, Reyes is struggling, or at least falling below expectations, in Miami. He enters today’s action batting .268. Never one to boast big power numbers, his three home runs, 21 RBI and .341 OBP are still tracking historically low. A .973 fielding percentage puts him a pedestrian 14th among MLB shortstops.
Meanwhile Tejada, when on the field, has done his best to show Mets fans that everything may be just fine – for a long time. While Reyes sits on the precipice of 30 years old, the Mets now have put their chips behind the 22 year-old Panamanian. Tejada has played in only 37 games. What has been surprising is what that 37-game sample has shown (ironically, Reyes has not missed a single game).
Tejada has been solid defensively, though not spectacular. The surprise has been his performance at the plate. The book on Ruben was good glove, smart player, can handle the bat. “Handle” meaning put the ball in play and move some people over and that kind of thing. He’s been more than that so far. Heading into this evening’s finale against the Phils, Tejada is batting .331 on 49 hits, 12 of which have been doubles.
Perhaps most notably, he’s also a heady player who you can count on to dig out every ground ball, throw to the right bag, hang in on every turn and battle every at bat. It’s refreshing. The kid needs to stay on the field, but he’s been a delight to watch. At 22 years-old, the Tejada of limited 2012 duty could be a more-than-serviceable replacement for the man who often delighted the Shea and Citi Field crowds.
Tejada will never be that guy. But he’s homegrown and undoubtedly hungry. He’s already making some question what exactly all that bellyaching was about. Which is good news for anyone who pulls for the Metropolitans.
About the Author: Cecilio's Scribe is the founder of The Legend of Cecilio Guante and a generally pessimistic fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks and Rangers. A fine NYC-based gentlemen who hones his marketing skills as his primary trade by day. Husband, chef, father of a newborn and after-hours blogger by night. Proud alum of the mighty Big Red of Cornell. University. Hot sauce devotee. Staunch protester of the continued wussifcation of American sports. Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick.