Wright-Reyes duo remains heartbeat of Mets
Long-tenured tandem can't imagine playing with anyone else
MIAMI -- Before the tattoos and the dreadlocks and the English lessons, Jose Reyes was a Dominican infielder with close-cropped hair and a singular goal: to make the Major Leagues. Two years after the Mets signed him as an international free agent in 1999, he traveled to the organization's instructional league camp in Florida. It was there that he met the club's top Draft pick, David Wright.
"You heard about him," Wright said of Reyes. "Obviously there was a lot of buzz around him and what he could do. I was excited to meet him and play with him."
They traveled through the Minor Leagues one after the other, Wright trailing Reyes by a year at every level. The shortstop broke into the big leagues first, in June 2003, reaching base twice in his debut. The third baseman joined him the following summer, and a tandem was born. They made their first All-Star team together in 2006. They debuted in the playoffs later that year. They suffered the same ignominy in 2007 and '08, the same rock bottom in '09, the same bounce-back seasons in '10.
But now, nearly 10 years after their first encounter, the future of the left side of the infield is up in the air. Wright is under contract in New York for two more years with an option for a third, while Reyes can be a free agent at season's end. Even if the shortstop wants to return, it's not a guarantee that the Mets will retain him.
For one of this generation's most exciting, talented and complementary tandems, the possibility of the duo being split is not a pleasant thought.
"I'm a big Jose Reyes fan," Wright said. "He makes everybody around him better, including me. So I hope he goes out there and has a great year and kind of forces the hand of the front office so they lock him up to whatever kind of extension. I hope that's the case."
If not best friends, they are nonetheless tremendous teammates -- baseball's version of a quarterback and his star wide receiver, a point guard and his center. Each usually knows what the other is thinking. Each usually knows precisely when to encourage, to console, to goad, to ignore, to razz, to defend.
It is remarkable considering that baseball is their only real connection. Reyes is 27 with dreadlocks and a family, splitting his time between Long Island and the Dominican Republic. Wright is 28, clean-cut and single, sticking to Manhattan and Virginia. Even on the diamond they are wildly different; Wright defines his game with power and a bit of speed, Reyes with speed and a touch of power.
But they are each Mets to the core, the two longest-tenured players in Flushing and among the longest-tenured teammates in the league.
"I feel we're like brothers, we've been with each other so long," Reyes said. "To keep that relationship is good. I'm Dominican. He's American. Different language, but we still get along good."
When Carlos Beltran decided to sign with the Mets prior to the 2005 season, he considered the presence of Pedro Martinez, along with ownership's promise to shell out money on other expensive free agents -- a goal the Mets achieved throughout the decade. He did not consider Wright or Reyes, two budding stars still absent from his radar.
Now he chuckles at his oversight, describing them as "two great ballplayers, two guys that can both make a difference."
"Honestly, for me it has been great," Beltran said. "We have gone through a lot of ups and downs and good moments and bad moments, but at the same time, I really have enjoyed playing with them."
Sticking with one team for an entire career may be rare, yet it is difficult to imagine the Mets without Reyes. Or Reyes without the Mets. Or Wright without Reyes. In the same way that he monopolizes a pitcher's attention when he reaches base, Reyes dominates the clubhouse with his incessant chatter, his friendliness, his ebullience. If Wright is the face of the franchise, Reyes is its heartbeat.
Both acknowledged that even the thought of Reyes playing elsewhere is a bizarre one that they prefer not to dwell on.
"I've never looked over to my left and seen anybody else there," Wright said. "I would hope that that's not the case."
Not long after Wright offered those words, Reyes walked over to their mutual corner of the spring clubhouse and the two exchanged their usual banter.
"I can't imagine playing with another third baseman," Reyes said later, after Wright was out of earshot. "I don't want to even think about that."
Nor do the Mets. But the issue will need to be addressed soon.