JUPITER, Fla. (AP) — Despite a new haircut and new uniform, Jose Reyes was easy to recognize on his first day at spring training Thursday.
Several dozen fans shouted Reyes’ name as they clustered along a practice-field fence at the Miami Marlins’ complex, and when he walked over to sign autographs, the tumult resembled a New York subway station at rush hour.
“Don’t push! Don’t push!” one fan said.
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“Make a line, for God’s sake!” said another.
That’s why the Marlins signed Reyes: to cause a commotion. They figure he’ll do it on the bases, leading off and using his speed to disrupt defenses, like last year with the New York Mets when he won the NL batting championship.
There’s also the Big Apple-style buzz he’s bringing to the Marlins, a franchise in transition after finishing last in NL attendance each of the past seven years. The Marlins anticipate sellout crowds this season in their new ballpark, and they’re being touted as potential playoff contenders thanks to an offseason spending spree.
The biggest deal was a $106 million, six-year contract for Reyes, and the shortstop already ranks among the most popular players with Marlins fans. His No. 7 jersey has become a common sight in Miami.
“They haven’t seen me play here yet,” he said. “When they see me play, they’re going to fall in love with me, because I’m a guy who gives 100 percent every day.”
They loved him in New York, where he made the All-Star team four times and hit .337 last season with 39 steals and an NL-high 16 triples.
He had been with the organization since age 16, but the cash-strapped franchise didn’t make a serious offer when he became a free agent this offseason. Marlins officials began courting him in person at a New York hotel at midnight, only moments after the signing period began.
He sealed his deal with Miami at the winter meetings, and Reyes is now so eager to start earning his big salary that he reported for camp three days before the first full-squad workout.
“This is my new team, my new family,” he said. “It’s a good feeling.”
Reyes sported closely cropped hair after having his dreadlocks shorn to comply with the Marlins’ dress code. He said he likes the new look, but his daughter needed time getting accustomed to it.
“The first couple of days when I went home, I said to my daughter, `Come on over,’ and she was like, `This is my daddy?'”
While Reyes spoke at his locker, two stalls away slugger Hanley Ramirez sat and listened. Ramirez is reluctantly moving from short to third base to make room for Reyes and said he welcomes the addition of his fellow Dominican.
“He’s going to help this team in many ways, because he’s a winner,” Ramirez said. “When you’ve got a guy like him who brings a lot of energy from the clubhouse to the field, it’s going to be great.”
While Ramirez has drawn criticism for his effort and attitude, the genial Reyes enjoys a reputation for always playing hard. He’s also injury-prone, and hamstring injuries hampered him each of the past three seasons, but the Marlins aren’t inclined to discourage him from diving or sliding.
However, they will give him a breather on occasion, manager Ozzie Guillen said.
“You cannot change this guy and the way he plays,” Guillen said. “We’ll give him a few days off. Every time he’s on the bench he’ll be making $2 million just sitting next to me, and that’s hard if you’re the owner and you see that. But that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Ramirez will not be Reyes’ backup at shortstop, Guillen said. The manager wants Ramirez to focus on learning how to play third.
When they’re both out there, Reyes said, the left side of the infield will rival any in the majors.
“We can be very good, the best,” he said. “We can do some special things.”
They mostly went their separate ways during informal drills Thursday. At the fence by the practice field, Reyes signed balls, bats, hats, photos and baseball cards, then walked away to a chorus of thank-yous.
“Have fun in Miami, Jose,” one fan shouted.
Bigger crowds await there. The buzz for the Marlins’ new shortstop is only beginning to build.