The Ruben Tejada that had five hits, and 12-at bats in three games against the Miami Marlins this past weekend, and who for the time being is manning third base for the New York Mets, is what was expected when he assumed the shortstop position from Jose Reyes.
That season of 2012, Tejada made his second opening day roster and was in the starting lineup for the first time in his career. With the exception of a stint on the disabled list, Tejada hit .325, the seventh highest mark in the National League prior to the All-star break.
Expectations were high. Tejada was going to be one of the future stars of the Mets, manning shortstop with Reyes now gone with a huge free agent contract. But along the way, and with all those expectations. Tejada hit a stumbling block. There were more injuries, inconsistency at the plate, and numerous trips back and forth from Triple-A to the big club.
In essence, Tejada was not the right fit to be a viable replacement at short.
He, as many would say was in the doghouse, however the manager Terry Collins always believed Tejada was a key component and stuck with the native of Varaguas Penama. Sandy Alderson, the GM had other plans as Wilmer Flores assumed the position, and Tejada, with a $1.3 million contract became a bench player with an occasional start.
It has been an up and down situation. And all through this episode, Ruben Tejada remained silent and went with the plan. Flores who took over the role at short, and has his ups and downs, has never been a competitor with Tejada. Though the two dress two lockers away from each other in the Mets clubhouse, they rarely seem to communicate.
Though said, he and Tejada are good friends and support each other as they go with the plan and there is no competition with the two. And even as of Sunday, when the Mets departed for a seven-game road trip to San Diego and Arizona, there was that connection with the two.
Now that Tejada for the moment is the starting third baseman, as Collins anointed him as such on Sunday, and because the return of David Wright is uncertain, Tejada has the opportunity to shine again. The production at third base has hit a combined .238 since Wright left the lineup, so those three games against the Marlins were a vast improvement for the Mets.
Tejada, though has had good numbers against the Marlins and time will tell, more so on this road trip, if his position in the lineup everyday is a difference maker.
From this perspective, Tejada can do it. The mentality to produce has always been there, HIs ability to man third say, so far-all good. His production at the plate, batting second in the lineup after Curtis Granderson and Lucas Duda to follow is what makes him best. Tejada has said to this observer, more than once, “Batting eighth is not for me.”
So from this perspective, it’s all good and that game winning double to left Sunday afternoon, a good and patient at bat, showed the focus and magnitude of player Tejada can be. More so now, because he has the opportunity.
Collins was asked if third base and a spot in the order was for Ruben Tejada. The Manager, who has always been his biggest fan responded: “Right now he is, He earned it. He can do a lot of things when he’s playing well. Right now, he’s playing well.”
Said Tejada, “ I just stay focused and wait for the opportunity.” That opportunity has come and there is no more room for improvement. He will hear the boos again and the questions asked about his approach as a player, if the errors compile and the production comes to a halt.
You can’t expect perfection all the time. Tejada will be the first to admit that baseball is not an easy game, that staying focused and playing a role on the bench are what mattered before he got this new opportunity.
Over the past few years, as the production and playing time diminished, Tejada always had the proper and brief answers. He denied there were distractions, though there were were always family members visiting from Panama that stayed with him at his condo complex he occupies about twenty minutes from Citi Field.
And there was another distraction, one that he denies. But a distraction that the manager eventually could notice, as Jordany Valdespin and Tejada dressed side-by-side and were noticeable friends off the field. Valdespin, who at times looked like a perfect fit for the Mets, eventually got in the doghouse of Collins and was released after a tirade that was witnessed by Alderson.
Tejada, even as of last week when the Mets swept a three-game series from the Phillies, once again was on the bench. He was always visible by his locker and went about his business. As the media gathered for post game in the Mets clubhouse, Tejada once in a while observed as he checked messages on his phone.
“Just go with the plan and hope to get a chance to play,” he commented to yours truly. But you could sense he was not wanted and looking for a place to play elsewhere.
He was approachable the first day arriving on the scene at Citi Field in 2011.That year, he played in 96 games, batted .284 and drive in 36 runs. After a game, he met five area high school baseball players and took them out to a restaurant in Washington Heights. He wanted those young men to know what it felt like to live a dream, to get to the pinnacle of playing on the Major League Baseball level.
Ruben Tejada has always been one to be on that level. It was a matter of focus and getting an opportunity again, and for the moment third base is his.
Comment Rich Mancuso: [email protected] Facebook,com/Rich Mancuso Twitter@Ring786. Photo by Neil Miller