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It's time for Reyes to be Reyes

4/20/2008

PHILADELPHIA -- Even now, in this "Me Generation," in which fame is often measured in terms of how many times some mindless act is replayed on television, baseball still maintains its various codes and unwritten rules. The "right way to play" entails not overly emoting on the field, not showing up the opposition and embarrassing or otherwise ruffling the delicate sensibilities of the other team.

However, such "rules" are in the eye of the beholder. Baseball players shouldn't be robots … which brings us to Jose Reyes, whose on-field exuberance -- and performance -- evaporated during the Mets' awful 2007 finish.


Reyes apparently took to heart claims that his penchant for intricate handshakes with teammates and the general effervescence with which he played were somehow inflaming the opposition. So he toned down his natural enthusiasm in September and carried the new, more stoic approach into the beginning of this season.

However, a few days on the sideline with a mild hamstring strain and some conversations with his teammates, Carlos Beltran in particular, have seemed to reawaken the joy in Jose Reyes. He came back to the Mets' lineup with his trademark flair, producing a blizzard of extra-base hits and running the bases with his customary aggressiveness -- a departure from late last season when he did not steal a base after Sept. 15.

The return of Reyes' smile was very much welcomed by his teammates.

If Reyes is the spirit of the Mets' club, David Wright certainly is the backbone. Wright has reached the point where he will likely enter every season as a potential MVP. Wright is the first to acknowledge that the Mets need Reyes' spark if New York is to erase the ugly memory of the 2007 collapse and return to the playoffs this fall.

Jose Reyes

Reyes

Shortstop
New York Mets

Profile

"Jose is the guy who makes our team go," said Wright, who is among the NL leaders in RBIs.
"We need him to be himself, to have fun out there and to play with a smile on his face. I don't get the stuff about Jose making other teams mad. This is a kid's game we're playing, and what's wrong with having some fun out there? Jose isn't hurting anyone with his handshakes and all the stuff he does.

"We're just a better team when Jose is being Jose, and it's given us all a lift over the last few days seeing him back to normal. We really missed that part of his game because on our club, he is our igniter."

On the other side of the Mets-Phillies rivalry is another shortstop whose own flair for the game is a major part of what Philadelphia hopes to accomplish. But whereas Reyes had deflated his own personality, Jimmy Rollins has been missing in action recently.

Rollins has been sidelined with a sprained right ankle since April 8, missing two games against the Mets in New York and the first two games of this weekend's series. Rollins was further derailed by having to return to his Oakland-area home late this week for the funeral of an uncle.

He left California late Friday for a red-eye flight back to Philadelphia, arriving Saturday around 9 a.m. and coming directly to the ballpark, where he had treatment on his ankle. Rollins then tested the ankle by taking batting practice in an indoor cage and fielding two dozen ground balls at shortstop.

"I'm wiped from all the travel and stuff, but the ankle is finally feeling closer to normal," he said. "I was able to move side to side for grounders a lot more comfortably and I didn't feel much running.

"So we'll see how it feels over the next 24 hours, and hopefully I'll be ready to get back in there Sunday night. I hate missing these games against New York."

It was, of course, Rollins, who a year ago proclaimed the Phillies as the "team to beat" in the NL East and, after talking the talk, proceeded to walk the walk by becoming the NL MVP in leading the Phillies to the division title.

The two teams have continued to exchange words throughout the offseason and spring training, and while a lot of the talk is just fodder for hungry headline writers, the rivalry has become very real for the two neighbors along the I-95 corridor. And for competitors like Wright, Rollins and Reyes, nothing is better than playing in games that have an extra edge to them.

"We say all the time that every game is important, but there's no question that these games with the Phillies or games with Atlanta have a little more to them," said Wright.

"These are the kind of games you dream about playing as a kid. And they are important for us in being able to get that taste of last year behind us. We need to re-establish ourselves as a team that can consistently win against the contenders in our division like the Phillies and Braves. These are the games that are fun to play."

And fun is something that the good players have, even if they don't show the joy like a Jose Reyes or a Jimmy Rollins does. And these two stars -- if Rollins' ankle permits it -- will be going head to head Sunday night in a preview of what should be a summerlong duel, with Atlanta in the mix as well, for the NL East title.

Peter Pascarelli is the lead researcher for "Sunday Night Baseball." He will preview each Sunday night game all season long. He is also co-host of the Baseball Today podcast, which runs Monday through Friday on ESPN.com.