For the better part of nine years José Reyes was the life of the New York Mets. As the saying went in Mets town during those days, as Reyes went, so went the Mets.
But with the Wilpon family facing a law suit stemming from their involvement in the Bernie Madoff fiasco, the team went into a cost-cutting movement. It was Reyes' time to go, signaling the end of an era for the franchise. To the team, he wasn't worth the years and money that the Miami Marlins put up, especially with the recurring injuries to his legs.
So instead of going out and getting a replacement via free agency, the newly penny-pinching franchise that has forever lived in the shadows of their crosstown rivals, the richer and more successful New York Yankees, promoted from within, handing over the reins at shortstop to youngster Ruben Tejada.
Ruben Tejada's like a son to me. I wish him the best. He's a kid with a lot of talent. I think he's going to be a great player for a long time in the major leagues.
- Jose Reyes, Miami Marlins Shortstop
Reyes' absence in the Mets clubhouse is undeniably noticeable. Gone is the player that would lighten up the room with his jokes. Replacing him is a low-key 22-year-old who, over the last two seasons, has filled out at shortstop as Reyes battled injuries and stepped in at second base.
You could always spot Tejada by Reyes' old locker at Citi Field before a game, listening in as Reyes talked to reporters or hanging out with his close friend.
"A tremendous relationship," Reyes told Fox News Latino recently while the Marlins were in Philadelphia of what evolved over the last two years in the majors and also during the spring as Tejada prepped himself as a minor leaguer and worked himself up through the system.
"Ruben Tejada's like a son to me. I wish him the best. He's a kid with a lot of talent. I think he's going to be a great player for a long time in the major leagues."
Tejada made his major league debut as the Mets starting shortstop of opening day in 2010 while Reyes recuperated from an overactive thyroid. He started the first three games and was demoted to the minors before being recalled in June that season, splitting time as a starter the rest of the way at both middle infield spots.
Last season he started 31 games in place of Reyes, who recovered from a hamstring injury.
Reyes knows that the Mets couldn't have made a better decision than to go with Tejada, a lifer at short.
"You know he's been a shortstop since he was a kid. I think what he did last year playing second base and not short helped his confidence a lot. He's a better shortstop than a second baseman. That's his natural position," Reyes said.
Tejada told Fox News Latino that he feels no pressure in the new role whether he's in the batter's box or covering the field. Replacing his friend, whom he shares the same agent with, has not overwhelmed him. Tejada ihas gotten a hit in 11 of 15 games, hitting .263. He's made only one error.
"He did a great job here. But what's expected of me is to do the best job I can and keep going forward," Tejada said.
"I feel relaxed out there. They've given the opportunity and I'm trying to take advantage of it to the max. I'm trying to do the best I can out on the field."
The Panamanian is part of a new youth movement for the Mets, something that New Yorkers aren't that much thrilled with. There's a fusion of young, hungry, homegrown talent covering the backstop (Josh Thole, 25 ), first base (Ike Davis, 25) , right (Lucas Duda, 26) and recently center field (Kirk Niewenhuis, 24). The face of the franchise, David Wright is only 29.
Yet the team has gone out and played well this season. They got off to a hot start, winning their first four and seven of their first 11 games but have lost five of their last six.
"This team has changed a lot," Tejada said. "There's a lot of youth on this team. This is a great group that's very much united. We expect things to come out well. Each one of us is going to go out to do best we can out on the field. I think if we give it our best, things will work out and we'll have positive results."
Adry Torres, who has covered MLB, NFL, NBA and NCAA basketball games and related events, is a regular contributor to Fox News Latino. He can be reached at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter: @adrytorresnyc.