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Mixed reaction as Reyes returns to Citi Field

Mixed reaction as Reyes returns to Citi Field

Mixed reaction as Reyes returns to Citi Field
NEW YORK -- As hard as Jose Reyes tried to convince himself this was just another game, he knew he wasn't kidding anybody. He admitted as much long before the first pitch was thrown. Reyes talked openly about the emotions that washed over him when he pulled into the familiar parking lot, laughed about getting lost trying to find the visitors' clubhouse at Citi Field.

The Marlins visited the Mets for the first time this season on Tuesday night, and that meant it was the first time, after nine seasons in the big leagues, that Reyes would be playing in New York for another team. Many fans had circled the day on their pocket schedules. He was curious to see how he'd be received. As the shortstop who played hard and topped it off with a batting title last season? Or the guy who left to sign a six-year, $106 million contract with a division rival?

The answer, predictably, was both. As a brief tribute was shown on the video board moments before the game started, when the lineups were announced, each of the four times he stepped to the plate, some gave him a standing ovation and some booed lustily.

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And when it was over and the ballpark was empty, Reyes stood against a wall outside the Marlins' clubhouse and tried to sort out what it all meant. The reaction, he said, neither surprised nor bothered him. He conceded to some relief that he'd gotten the first game back behind him. He was somber because he'd gone hitless in four at-bats and the Marlins lost, 2-1.

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen brightened when asked about the reaction.

"Funny," he said. "You knew some people were going to love him and some people were going to hate him. That's everywhere. I like it when people boo. That means they're into the game. That's part of the game. I think Jose gave them everything he had [when he played for the Mets]. Whoever cheered for him, God bless them. Those who did not, they have their reasons, too."

Reyes shrugged wearily when asked what he thought about it all.

"It was good," he said. "Like I said, whatever they do for me is fine. No hard feelings for no one. I came here to play baseball, so that's good."

The reporters persisted. Was he surprised by the booing?

"It doesn't surprise me because I play for another team now," Reyes said. "Like I said, no hard feelings. I just tried to win this game, but unfortunately we lost it.

"When I stepped on the field, it was kind of unreal for me, but after the first inning, it all goes away and you just focus on playing baseball."

The split ballot during the game was just a later, prime-time version of what had played out during warmups. As Reyes emerged from the dugout for stretching, teammate Hanley Ramirez hung on his back, pretending that he needed protection from what was to come. Maybe a dozen television cameras followed every step.

Even then, the reaction was evenly divided. From down the third base line, several dozen fans began the soccer-style chant that they'd serenaded Reyes with when he was on his way to winning a batting championship last season.

Jose, Jose, Jose, Jose ... Jose ... Jose.

An equal number of early arrivals responded to that with boos.

The pro-Reyes faction waved signs -- "Thank You, Jose," one read -- and snapped pictures. Many wore Mets gear.

The opposing delegation predictably called him a "traitor," although that seems a bit much since the Mets never actually made him a contract offer. There were also several references to the number of times he's been on the disabled list in the past.

Ramirez and Emilio Bonifacio good-naturedly interacted with the hecklers. Reyes didn't, grinning broadly while loosening up, seeming to enjoy the reaction immensely. Later he autographed one of the signs and threw a couple baseballs into the stands to his supporters.

"Most of the fans were good to me, showed me a lot of love," Reyes said. "And some of them not. I understand that. I play for another team now. I don't play for the New York Mets anymore."

Even Mets manager Terry Collins found himself conflicted.

"It's tough for me," Collins said. "I don't need to watch the video to know how good he was. I got to see it firsthand. I got to know what kind of a guy he is. And sometimes his skills on the field don't tell you what kind of a guy this is inside. He's a tremendous teammate.

"He deserves the tribute. But when it's over, we've got a job at hand, and that's to make sure he doesn't hurt us too bad."

Reyes did make one concession before his return, though. He dyed his hair reddish-gold during Spring Training because, he said, it was a Marlins color. On Monday night, he dyed it back to jet black again.

He had joked before the game that, granted one wish, he'd like to hit one of his trademark triples. And he almost did, drilling a pitch from Mets starter Johan Santana deep to center field in the top of the first.

But just when it looked as though the ball would hit the top of the wall and carom away, giving the speedy Reyes a chance to make it to third, Mets center fielder Kirk Nieuwenhuis jumped and made the grab.

Reyes grounded out his next time up and then was retired on routine flies to right his final two plate appearances, dropping his season average to .215.

"That doesn't feel good," he said. "But it's only two weeks. I'll work hard. This will change quickly. It's too early to worry or panic."

He did achieve one thing Tuesday night. Ramirez had jokingly bet him that he'd be so emotional on his first night back that he'd cry.

"No," Reyes said, smiling now. "I did not cry."

Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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