Paths converge for Dominican friends

Paths converge for Dominican friends

They grew up as baseball-playing buddies, learning the game together on the rock-strewn infields of Palmar Arriba, a neighborhood in Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. And together, like any other kids their age, Jose Reyes, the shortstop, and Argenis Reyes, the second baseman, dreamed of the Major Leagues.

"Not together, no," Jose said of Argenis, who lived 10 minutes away from him. "He was one of my best friends. [I've known] him a long time. Our families were close. But we never said we would get to the Major Leagues together. We never said that because you never know what will happen.''

Jose broke through first, signed as a free agent by the New York Mets. Then Argenis, nine months older, hooked on with the Cleveland Indians.

After that, their paths differed dramatically. Jose became a star; Argenis became a project.

Jose was in the Majors by 2003, a regular for the Mets almost from the day he arrived. He led the National League in stolen bases for three straight years and set a Mets career record for triples. There was a three-home run game at Philadelphia in 2006, the same year he hit for the cycle versus Cincinnati. He was a two-time All-Star, and the energizer of a team that won the NL East title and was one game away from the World Series in 2006.

Meanwhile, Argenis labored in the low Minors with the Indians, largely ignored by the organization, never making it beyond Double-A ball.

All that time, Jose stayed in touch with his buddy. "We talked on the phone all the time," he said. "He would ask what it's like in the Majors. We would hang together back home in the offseason."

The Indians released Argenis last season, and he signed with the Mets in November. In Spring Training, Jose was delighted to be reunited with his old pal.

"I wasn't surprised to see him, because I know he can play," Jose said.

Argenis hit .433 in 13 games during Spring Training. Then, assigned to Triple-A New Orleans, he hit .290 with 38 runs scored, 11 doubles, 22 RBIs and 13 stolen bases in 79 games before he got the call from the Mets on July 3.

With a knack for being in the middle of rallies, he was an immediate hit in New York. He contributed a string of timely hits during the 10-game winning streak that pushed the Mets into serious contention in the NL East race. And he punctuated his arrival with a home run against St. Louis, his first professional homer in more than a year. No one was happier with that development than his buddy, Jose.

Mets manager Jerry Manuel felt comfortable enough playing the replacement at second base to give 38-year-old Damion Easley a day off. He was confident Argenis could provide a seamless defensive replacement for Easley, with no dropoff in offensive production.

Meanwhile, the other Reyes was lighting up the league. Jose became the first player in Major League history to have 20 or more doubles, 10 or more triples, 10 or more home runs and 30 or more stolen bases before the All-Star break. And when the season resumed, he kept his hot streak up with a couple of four-hit games and a three-run homer that moved the Mets into a first-place tie with Philadelphia.

The best part was that now Jose could look over at the other side of second base and frequently see his old pal, Argenis, there.

The two friends were back together -- just like the old days in the Dominican Republic.

Hal Bock is a freelance writer based in New York.