PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - In addition to the Mets' championship dreams, a part of Jose Reyes' died on that final weekend at Shea Stadium. The fun part, the dancing part. Alas, it looks like the shortstop's celebratory handshakes, just like the one that turned the Marlins into maniacs during that doomed series, are now history.
"I'm not even thinking about that," Reyes said Tuesday. "No more handshakes. People kept saying we got teams fired up when we did those handshakes, so now I want to focus more on baseball."
That was a stunning remark coming from Reyes, who appears to have more fun on the field than anyone in the game. And the handshakes had become a signature move, with Reyes always developing a new one during spring training. They were elaborately choreographed, practiced often and unique to the Mets.
But the shocking collapse to last season, and Reyes' prominent role in the club's downfall, has prompted the All-Star shortstop to rethink his antics by the on-deck circle. In what proved to be the defining moment of that infamous weekend, Reyes' hip-hop handshake with Lastings Milledge seemed to infuriate the Marlins, who later ignited a bench-clearing brawl that same afternoon and returned to rout the Mets on Sunday.
The Marlins had nothing on their minds but tee times and fishing trips until they saw Reyes and Milledge dancing on the ashes of Florida's season. Soon after, catcher Miguel Olivo charged Reyes at third base, nearly taking his head off with a right hook, and the war of words continued in the clubhouse afterward.
Just like that, the Mets had given the Marlins a reason to treat Game No. 162 like it was Game 7 of the World Series. Florida knocked out Tom Glavine in the first inning and kept the Mets out of the playoffs with an 8-1 victory that left permanent scars on the franchise. Really, who can blame Reyes if he doesn't feel much like partying after a funeral like that?
"Nobody said anything to me, but it's because of what happened last year," Reyes said. "That's why I'm taking this year more seriously. In 2006, everybody loved [the handshakes], but now it's different. I'm going to enjoy the game, but I'm not going to do the handshakes with the guys. I don't want people to talk about that. I just want to play baseball. I want to take care of business on the field."
In performing the autopsy on last year's Mets, there was more than one cause of death, but there was plenty of finger pointing at Reyes, who was accused of violating baseball's etiquette of not showing up the opposing team. Manager Willie Randolph tried to deflect that blame by downplaying the incident at the time, but there is some validity to that claim.
New teammate Brian Schneider, who played for the Nationals last season, said he wasn't personally offended by Reyes' handshakes, but did hear angry rumblings from the opposing bench. "For some guys, it's all right if they do it in the dugout," Schneider said. "But if they do it outside ... sometimes people have a problem with it."
When told that Reyes was thinking of killing the handshake this season, Billy Wagner was surprised, but understood.
"All it does is bring more attention to yourself," Wagner said. "You want Jose to be Jose. Having fun is what he's about. You want him to get excited when he gets a big hit or steals a base. But sometimes too much of that blows it out of proportion and makes him a target. And that's the thing. You don't want to give the other team any reason to make it an issue. You want them to see you're here for business. The only time you have fun playing this game is when you're winning."
Randolph and general manager Omar Minaya also were surprised that Reyes was curtailing the celebrations. Neither one had a problem with it, or said anything to Reyes about it.
"I'm sure he might have heard people say that other teams were upset about it and it was too much," Randolph said. "But that's stuff that Jose doesn't think about. We don't think about it. When we're having fun, and the kids are expressing themselves, they're not thinking that they're showing anyone up. They don't even know someone is looking at them.
"No one should be looking at them, really. The fans notice it, the media might see it, but if I'm on the other side, if I need to concern myself with that, your head's in the wrong place."
Added Minaya: "I think the beauty of Jose is the joy that he plays with. But that's his decision. I would never encourage him not to do it. It's just that when things don't go well, people highlight stuff like that."
Of course, the excitable Reyes could always change his mind, and who knows what will happen when he gets on the field. But for now, in spring training, Reyes will be practicing everything but his handshakes.
"When people see me in the dugout, and they see me not smiling, they'll be saying, 'What's wrong with Jose?'" Reyes said. "Nothing. I'm just going to be more serious this year."