Troublesome Homecoming

Having spent much of June reeling somewhat ferociously, the Mets enter a set against the first place Nationals on a small tear of having won four out of six. Two of the four were a sweep of the defending world champion Royals, against whom the Mets lost a 2015 World Series they actually could have won (they won this season's series against the Royals, 3-1), and they've just split a set in Atlanta with the lowly Braves who swept them rather ignominiously at home the previous weekend.

The primary issue for these Mets has been offense, which has been hobbled by inconsistency and occasional loafing. They can breathe just a little knowing Noah Syndergaard, by any definition the best of their sterling pitching staff this season, opens in Washington against a Nats team that just cracked a 7-game losing streak — they beat the Brewers 3-2 — while reeling from the news that Stephen Strasburg (stop me if you've heard this before) is injured. Upper back strain, which the Nats hope won't keep him out for too long after missing two starts already.

If ever this year's Nats were ripe for a slapdown, this forthcoming set with the Mets would be it. Only citizens of the Delta Quadrant don't know the Mets can pitch. So what do the Mets do to fortify their problems at the plate?

They send struggling phenom Michael Conforto down to Las Vegas to get his confidence back. And, they re-sign Jose Reyes, once a shining shortstop in their uniform but hitting a decline phase since his departure after winning the 2011 National League batting title, and spending this season thus far as persona non grata in Colorado thanks to domestic violence. Reyes begins his Mets return with their Brooklyn Class-A affiliate; he could be back in a Met uniform within eleven days after a few more stops up the minor league chain to get his bearings back.

Officially, Reyes was first placed on administrative leave after the incident in which he shoved his wife, Katherine Ramirez, into a glass door in a Hawaiian hotel last October. That was when it appeared the incident might result in a court trial. The Rockies placed him on administrative leave in February. Ramirez refused to cooperate in the investigation, which got Reyes off the hook legally but not with baseball. Commissioner Rob Manfred suspended him retroactive to February and through the end of May.

In the interim, two things happened to the man for whom the Rockies dealt franchise cornerstone Troy Tulowitzki last summer: 1) Trevor Story turned a stand-in gig at shortstop into an explosive season opening (setting the rookie April home run record after opening with six bombs in his first four major league games, including a pair off Zack Greinke), which now stands at eighteen home runs and — as if to say no good deed goes unpunished — the major league lead in strikeouts. (One hundred and four, three ahead of American League leader Mike Napoli.) 2) Reyes's suspension ended with the Rockies looking for someone, anyone to take him off their hands.

Reyes hasn't been the same player since he signed a free agency contract with the Marlins for 2012. It wasn't exactly his idea that the Marlins proved to have deceived him and a few others and made them part of yet another Jeffrey Loria fire sale, sending him, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, John Buck, and Emilio Bonifacio to the Jays for current Angel Yunel Escobar, former Angel Jeff Mathis, and five other warm bodies after that season. Reyes played serviceably in Miami and in Toronto before last season, but not all that close to that solid first tour with the Mets from 2003-2011.

He's nowhere near the effervescent four-time All-Star and fan favorite he was the first time around. Once he was half the Mets' youthful left side of the infield with David Wright, helpless enough when the Mets couldn't quite push their way to the 2006 World Series. But Wright is down with neck and back issues yet again and could be facing the end of the line, and Reyes at 33 has anything but the wheels and reflexes that brought him three straight National League stolen base championships, the only batting title in Mets history, four league leaderships in triples, and one seasonal hits leadership. In baseball terms, the Mets will be lucky to get anything serviceable out of a 33-year-old Reyes, whether at third base or maybe in left field.

He also has baggage. Serious baggage. And anyone who thought that would dry up and blow away once he got back into a major league uniform wasn't paying attention when the whispers began last week, after the Rockies put him on the waiver wire and found no takers, but the Mets began to look like they were more than interested in bringing him back. There were petitions all but begging the Mets not to do it. Some of that must have been a kind of institutional alarm, memories harking back to when Darryl Strawberry's issues with his first wife added to the combustibility of the mid-to-late 1980s Mets. Most of it said there should be no room for the domestically violent anymore.

Murray Chass, the former longtime New York Times columnist (and a Spink Award Hall of Famer), knows firsthand what domestic violence means; his wife was a longtime volunteer with a New Jersey domestic violence help group. Speaking of Ramirez's refusal to cooperate with the authorities last fall, Chass observes: "The pattern is familiar to people involved with domestic violence ... Battered women don't like being abused and readily detail their abuse to authorities, but they often stop short of testifying against their abusers, who are free to abuse them again. My wife recalls an episode in which a man, free from a domestic violence charge, fatally battered his wife with a baseball bat."

This is not a simple wicket. Around the same time as Reyes's incident, Aroldis Chapman's prospective trade to the Los Angeles Dodgers was quashed after Chapman either shoved or tried to choke his girlfriend; the Yankees dealt for him but he served a 30-day suspension. Chapman's performance in a Yankee uniform seems to have muted much outrage over his incident.

Prior to baseball's current hard-hammer policy against domestic violence, only one team had anything resembling a hard-line stance. The Mariners had a one-strike policy for a very long time. The most prominent catch was relief pitcher Julio Mateo. Charged with assaulting his wife in 2007, Mateo served a ten-days-without-pay suspension, followed by demotion to the minors and then his release. He moved on to the Phillies — who'd been embarrassed a year earlier when pitcher Brett Myers had either a hair pulling or smacking incident with his wife in a Boston parking lot ... the day after which he started a game to robust jeering from Fenway Park.

Reyes did all the proper things upon returning to the Mets, including a formal statement expressing remorse. It did little to mollify those opposed to his return. But as Chass notes sadly enough, "I know why abused wives or girlfriends won't go after their abusers. But that's the only way to stop abuse. Baseball's policy is only a first step. If no team signs Reyes and he is out of baseball, MLB won't be able to do anything the next time, if there is a next time."

"[N]o sport can tolerate it, either," wrote ESPN's Jayson Stark of domestic violence when Reyes's suspension was announced. "No sport can turn a blind eye to those headlines. No sport can just open the gates, put on a happy face and pretend that that's okay. That's how it worked in baseball once upon a time. At least we were reminded ... that those days are over. Forever."

Reyes is far less likely to do with the Mets what Chapman has done with the Yankees, put on a performance that might make people set his domestic violence issue to one side. "[W]herever Reyes goes, wherever he plays," Stark added, "he can't ever again be the former batting champ with the big smile and the sprinter's wheels. He'll always be that guy who shoved his wife into the glass door of a Hawaii hotel room--and lost two months of his career because of it." Two months of his career, and respect as a man.

But then you have Cindy Southworth, executive vice president of the National Network to End Domestic Violence. She tells the New York Times, "Domestic violence is a choice. Because it's behavior that can be chosen, it's also behavior that cannot be chosen. People can come back from that and have a more respectful relationship. It's hard work and needs a trained therapist, but I do think it's possible."

The Mets would be wise to keep Reyes and his wife within reach of such a therapist. And Reyes — who never surrendered his Long Island home after leaving the Mets the first time — would be wise not to let himself forget that, after receiving baseball's harshest known penalty for domestic violence, he got the thing that looked impossible earlier this season. A second chance.

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