Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Jose Reyes

I have an unhealthy disdain for Jose Reyes.

As a Braves fan, hating the Mets is a foregone conclusion. I’ve loved watching their front office implode, and I honestly enjoy seeing headlines like “Bernie Madoff Rips Off Mets”. I know it’s sad. I even tried as an child to ignorantly defend John Rocker, simply because he was so good against the Mets.

Jose Reyes embodies my extreme hatred. He rivals any shortstop on Earth, can steal bases at will, and has shown flashes of being a top-tier hitter. His half-hearted effort after signing a five year/$33 million deal in ’07 and subsequent MVP performance this year (his contract year) only make him more frustrating to watch.

My hatred, however, was very short-sided.

Last month, my family and I traveled to Bristol to see the White Sox Rookie League team. The starting pitcher, making his Bristol debut, was my wife’s childhood friend from Venezuela, Jean Duque. After signing with the White Sox in ’07, Jean finally made it to the U.S. and found himself the opening night starter for the entry level team.

My wife and mother-in-law beamed as they watched Jean’s impressive, two hit performance. The intensity on his young face was telling of the pressure he carried. He kept his hat brim down, starring intently between spots behind the plate and the path between the dugout and mound. A ritual mass killing could have happened in left field, and Jean would have still only seen the 60 feet, six inches in front of him. In that moment, the sound of the ball smacking the catcher’s mitt was all that mattered.

On a strict pitch count, he was pulled after the fifth and immediately sent to the training room where we tried to speak with him. Jean, though, was only able to give a skittish hello and quickly made is way to the dugout, not wanting his coaches to see him fraternizing with fans.

This extreme pressure is not unique among Hispanic players. In countries like the Dominican Republic and Venezuela, baseball is revered. Not simply for the game itself, but because a bat and glove are the tangible versions of a dream for a better life for themselves and the communities they carry with them. For these players, America is the land where they can fully display their talents at the highest level and make more money than everyone they know combined several times over.

Baseball isn’t revered because it’s an enjoyable occupation. It’s a lifeline. 

For Jean, the possibilities of baseball in the U.S. are providing the needed avenue to support the family and newborn child he left in his small community in Venezuela. 

Understanding someone’s history and journey in life will always give more perspective to why they act a certain way. In athletics, this goes even farther and more still regarding international players who’ve overcome staggering odds to reach the top.

I recently watched a documentary on the rise of Hispanic players in Major League Baseball and the overwhelming wealth of talent pouring in from Central and South America. Reyes was among those spotlighted. As he made his way through his parents’ modest, Dominican home, he smiled and proudly introduced member after member of his family. Like a young boy eager to show off, Reyes led the camera to the back deck to showcase the view of his home country. To Reyes, this was success.

Like any other passionate sports fan, however, I’m irrational. My emotions for the game tend to dictate how I see the world away from the playing field. Players in uniform cease to be individuals and  become the name on their jersey. This is an attribute we typically desire for athletes, but it applies to the good and bad. Our favorite players are gods when they succeed and dogs when they fail. The U.S. women’s soccer team were heroes after beating Brazil. A week later, they’re choke artists. No matter what happened in all the games leading up to their lose to Japan, they’ll be labeled losers who couldn’t take the pressure.

Watching Jean and hearing my wife’s stories of growing up in poverty made the game an entirely different experience. The name on the front of the jersey was insignificant. All I wanted was to see him dominate batters and earn his way up the Chicago farm system.

After seeing Reyes in his Dominican hometown, I’m finding it increasingly difficult to hope he pulls a hamstring or develops a nasty bout with tendonitis. He didn’t chose the team who gave him a chance. He went with the club who did, whether it was the Mets, Brewers, or the fighting spatulas from Bob’s Cooking School. He took the chance that presented itself, and it’s hard to hold that against him.
But don’t get me wrong. I still hate Jose Reyes... just a little less than before.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate. This is how I feel about Duke!