PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Each morning since the Cardinals scooped him up off Major League Baseball's free-agent scrap heap, Ruben Tejada has woken up in a Port St. Lucie hotel room, said goodbye to his girlfriend and 9-month-old daughter, and driven the 40-odd miles down to the Cards' Spring Training complex in Jupiter, Fla. When the Mets released Tejada earlier this month, he never bothered to find a new place to stay. His roots here were too deep.
So Tejada's reunion in Port St. Lucie on Friday was not as emotional as it might otherwise have been, had the time between jobs been longer or the geographical distance greater. There were the usual hugs and handshakes as Tejada made his way toward Tradition Field's familiar batting cage, of course, spending a long time catching up with former teammates Bartolo Colon and Jeurys Familia in particular. But so much of this for Tejada was fresh, not strange.
"We're still friends no matter what happens," Tejada said. "I understand that this is a business. It's history now. I have to keep doing the same and keep working the same way, stay focused with my new team and help the team win."
In terms of playing time, Tejada's new situation is an obvious upgrade. Rather than sit virtually unused on the Mets' bench behind Asdrubal Cabrera, Neil Walker and Wilmer Flores, Tejada has a strong chance to break camp as the Cardinals' starting shortstop. He will make less money -- $1.5 million with the Cardinals, compared to the $3 million he was set to earn with the Mets -- but play a far more significant role.
Tejada had an up-and-down game in the reunion. He smacked two singles in three at-bats but made an error on a Kevin Plawecki grounder in the second.
"It's a good opportunity here, new team, new history now," said Tejada, who is replacing injured Cardinals shortstop Jhonny Peralta. "I'm really happy. I feel pretty good with this team now. I'll keep working the same way."
Yet in many ways, Tejada will always be a Met, particularly after his broken leg during Game 2 of the National League Division Series stamped his place in franchise lore. Manager Terry Collins noted as much, saying that Tejada "came here and left his heart on the field, as we know."
"I wished him all the best and thanked him for everything he's done here," Collins said. "I'm just glad he caught on so fast, and got himself in a good organization and a job."
Added former teammate Flores: "He knows the game in the big leagues. We knew he was going to find a job."