Wednesday, June 22, 2016

On Fallen Heroes - Thoughts on Reyes and Wright

I've talked here about Matt Harvey, about the act of watching baseball, and how the game is, in many ways, not merely a story but a part of our uniquely American mythology. In Babe Ruth and Ted Williams and Ty Cobb we have organically grown what L. Frank Baum tried to deliberately create - a uniquely American set of folk stories. Total we'll talk about the left side of the Mets infield, and the fall of two of New York's heroes. Will either have a final act, and what will that act entail? That we don't know yet.

Wright and Reyes. Reyes and Wright. Two young Mets going the team in the early 2000s, full of promise. Reyes was always the spark. Ebullient, enthusiastic, joyous. He ran like the wind, once completing an inside-the-park home run in just over 14 seconds. Reyes of the elaborate post-home-run handshakes, he of the "Learn Spanish with Professor Reyes" vignettes on the big scoreboard. He was youth, he was fun, he was life.

Then Wright. Where Reyes was all twitch and speed and flair, Wright was all business, class, quiet confidence. A smooth swing, an easy smile, a quiet demeanor. He's the closest the Mets had to what the Yankees had all those years in Derek Jeter; a comforting, steady presence both in the line-up and in the clubhouse. He was front and center with a grin after a big win, and front and center again to say the hard things after a loss.

Wright and Reyes. Reyes and Wright. In 2006, as young men, they'd lead the team deep into the post-season, coming one game - one out - even one PITCH from an appearance in a World Series which the Saint Louis Cardinals would eventually win.

Two Thousand six was a long time ago. It felt like the beginning of something grand, although we now know that it wasn't. The years which followed were full of disappointments, struggles. Through it all, Wright and Reyes, Reyes and Wright, until that fateful day after the 2011 season in which Reyes was seduced by riches (and, in fairness, was outside the Mets budget) and took his talents to Miami.

Reyes wandered the wilderness, trading from Miami to distant Toronto after just one season and, when Toronto was finally poised to achieve success, traded again to Colorado.

Wright stayed, remained the one link to 2006, started to grow old before his time, still a Met for his playing life, however long that may be.

Wright and Reyes, Reyes and Wright. Now both at a crossroads, Each fallen in his own way. Wright, laid low by a failing body as he was diagnosed first with spinal stenosis, and now with a herniated disc in his neck. He'll get surgery and may or may not someday return to the field. If he does, it will be as a diminished athlete weakened by the ravages of time - as we all are.

(As an aside, this is my issue with another American mythology: superheroes, especially as portrayed in cinema; we get the beginning of the story, but too rarely the end. Peter Park is always a young man. Bruce Wayne is always donning the cowl for the first time after his parents' murder. Before they can age, mature, move to a different part of their story -- the universe resets and Parker is again bitten by a radioactive spider, Wayne again orphaned. We tell half-stories, never getting to the point in which Sherlock Holmes meets his nemesis at the Reichenbach Falls, or Ajax falling onto his sword after realizing that his time has past. We don't even get Kirk at Veridian III. I'll speak more on that in another post, but I wish we would learn to tell full stories)

Reyes' story could have been a classic - heroic figure leaves, wanders the figurative desert for a time, returns triumphantly. His fall, however, was of a different kind in that he spent fully the first third of this season suspended from baseball under MLB's new domestic violence policy after throwing his wife into a glass door while vacationing in Hawaii. He's since lost his starting job to a young rookie and been essentially cut by the team, who will pay him the remaining nearly forty-million dollars owed on his contract for the service of going away and never being seen there again.

After Reyes' domestic violence incident, the story changes. Now the story becomes not only about a hero whose fall is a moral issue, but it becomes part of a larger societal story about abuse of women in the world of athletics and the lack of repercussions. It's a story that includes Ray Rice initially suspended only two games after hitting his wife. Brock Turner given a minimal sentence after raping an unconscious woman. Aroldis Chapman pitching for the Yankees after firing a gun during a domestic dispute with his wife. Santonio Holmes returning to the gridiron after beating his wife. It's Fransisco Rodriguez continuing to close baseball games after domestic violence, including assaulting his then-girlfriend's father at an actual ball game. 

The story or Reyes can become part of another myth - the myth of professional athletics and the import of success on the field. The story that the safety and health of the women surrounding athletes are less important than success on the field. A story we tell every time Chapman dons the Yankee pinstripes and which Reyes would tell if again wore the orange and blue. This is why - after years of missing his on-field ebullience - I'd be furious to see Reyes again don a Mets uniform.

Is what he did forgivable, and can he have a path to redemption? Perhaps. That forgiveness cannot takes place on the baseball diamond, lest we reinforce the message that women are less important than sport. That we cannot do.

And of Wright's future? He's in pain. He's played in pain all year, and all year last year. IT takes hours for him to prep his injured back before each game. Later? After neck surgery? Perhaps he'll be able to come back and the story will be that of overcoming hardship. Perhaps not and the story will be about how time finally defeated him. As it does everyone. 

Wright and Reyes. Reyes and Wright. Two stars, beloved by Mets fans from their youngest days. Neither on the field at present. Wright's story is in its last pages. Reyes' - at least for me - is over. I won't watch him again, won't cheer for him again. 

One may never play again due to age and injury. One should never play again for the message his return would send.

 It's not the way any of us wanted or expected either story to end. 

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