NEW YORK (AP) – José Reyes trotted over to third base at the beginning of batting practice, ready to take grounders during infield drills with the New York Mets.
All at once, the four-time All-Star shortstop was in a brand new spot and yet right at home.
Reyes rejoined his original team on Tuesday and received a warm welcome back from fans at Citi Field in his first major league game since serving a 59-day domestic violence suspension. Batting leadoff against the Miami Marlins, he quickly doffed his helmet to a cheering crowd — some fans stood and applauded — when he stepped to the plate in the first inning.
"They showed me a lot of love and I respect that and I just tipped my hat as appreciation," Reyes said. "I didn't know what to expect when I came here today and to see the crowd reaction like that, that was good."
Just called up from the minors, Reyes went 0 for 4 with a strikeout in a 5-2 loss that ended New York's five-game winning streak.
Wei-Yin Chen (5-3) outpitched Steven Matz (7-4), and Giancarlo Stanton homered twice to match his career high with five RBIs.
"I was little bit extra pumped. Tomorrow I will be more settled down," said Reyes, who acknowledged being a bit nervous for a game that felt like his major league debut. "Tomorrow and the days to come, I am going to be much better."
For the 33-year-old switch-hitter, however, simply slipping on a Mets uniform felt great.
"I still don't believe that I'm here again. I'm happy," Reyes said before the game, wearing a sleeveless workout shirt that showed the tattoos of his children's faces on his right arm.
"Like I said, coming back here, it feels like I'm home. I feel comfortable. When I feel comfortable, I'm going to perform. Nothing for me now to worry about. I sleep in my own bed. Feels like I'm with a family here in New York."
A fan favorite in Queens for years, Reyes still resides nearby on Long Island. New York fans were very supportive when he began his minor league assignment with Class A Brooklyn on June 26, and he publicly apologized again Tuesday, saying "people deserve a second chance in life."
"I know there's going to be some people that are going to hate me," Reyes said. "I understand that. I put myself in that situation, like I said before. But (anyone) who knows me from the bottom of their heart, they know that I'm not that kind of person."
The speedy Reyes played for the Mets from 2003-11 and holds franchise records for stolen bases (370) and triples (99). He has said he always wanted to stay, but New York didn't push to retain him when he became a free agent.
Reyes left after winning the 2011 NL batting crown and signed a $106 million, six-year contract with Miami. He was traded in November 2012 to Toronto and then last July to Colorado, which released him after he completed his domestic violence suspension this year.
Major League Baseball imposed the punishment after Reyes got involved in an altercation with his wife in Hawaii last October that initially resulted in a criminal charge, which was later dropped.
Most fans at Citi Field seemed ready to give Reyes his second chance. Even MLB embraced his homecoming by tweeting that Reyes "is BACK in Queens " with a smiley face emoji and photos of fans with signs supporting the infielder.
"He was a part of this franchise for so long that the chances of him getting a second chance here are better because of his history here and how much we loved him," said Erica Kastel, 22, from Commack. "We are more willing to accept him. It's like he's coming home."
Not everyone in the crowd of 29,477 was so forgiving, though.
"I don't think it's appropriate," said Katie Conners, a mother from Islip who attended the game with her young son. "I think if somebody's been charged with a domestic violence crime, they should not be rewarded with however much money to play a professional sport."
After he was cut by the Rockies, Reyes signed a minor league contract with the Mets to play his way into big league shape. He batted a combined .176 (6 for 34) in two games with Brooklyn and nine for Double-A Binghamton.
He played third base Tuesday night, his first major league appearance anywhere other than middle infield. Reyes shifted to the hot corner in the minors while preparing to fill in for Mets captain and longtime teammate David Wright, likely out for the season following neck surgery.
Reyes said he called Wright a few days ago for advice on playing third.
New York manager Terry Collins said Reyes also will be used to spell shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera occasionally and could even see time in center field soon, an idea that was agreeable to Reyes.
Wilmer Flores, productive for the past month while subbing for Wright at third, will move back into the utility infield role New York envisioned for him before the season. He batted cleanup and started at second base Tuesday to give Neil Walker a rest and is expected to spell James Loney at first on Wednesday.
Flores will remain a "big factor" against left-handed pitching, Collins said.