Ever since he first set foot on a big league diamond on June 10, 2003 at the tender age of 19, Jose Reyes has looked like a natural. He could run, field, and hit from day one, and through it all exuded an enthusiasm and imperviousness to the New York pressure cooker that separated him from so many others his age. His rapid rise to stardom seemed almost preordained, and after recording a pair of singles in his MLB debut, he never looked back. Indeed, by age 24 he had already racked up two All-Star selections, three NL stolen base titles, two NL triples titles, and a Silver Slugger award. He has gone on to become the 2011 NL batting champion, be named to a total of four All-Star teams, and is the Mets’ all-time leader in both stolen bases and triples.

But it wasn’t always so easy for Reyes—far from it, in fact.

As a skinny, 100-something-pound kid growing up in the small farming town of Palmar Arriba in the baseball-crazy Dominican Republic, Reyes had a difficult time standing out in the DR’s sea of talented players. And even after he was invited to a scouting camp in Santiago at 16, with his slight frame and underwhelming speed (he ran a good-but-not-great 7.0 60-yard dash for scouts), Reyes was passed over by as many as 10 Major League teams. Fortunately for the lanky shortstop, New York Mets scout Eddy Toledo saw something in Reyes that the others didn’t, and signed him to a contract in August of 1999.

It didn’t take long for young Reyes to completely validate Toledo’s trust in him. In his first full-minor league season in 2001, Reyes hit .307 with five home runs and 15 triples in just 407 at-bats (along with 30 stolen bases), and then followed that up the next year by getting promoted to Double-A and hitting a cumulative .288 with eight homers and 19 triples while swiping an astonishing 58 bags. His stay in Triple-A in 2003 lasted all of 42 games before he was called up to the big leagues, and the 19-year-old finished his first MLB season with an impressive .307 average and 13 steals.

Reyes was off and running from there, literally. Following an injury-marred 2004 campaign, he swiped 60, 64, 78, and 56 bases from 2005–2008, leading all of MLB in steals during three of those seasons. In that same four-year span he also led MLB in triples three times and in total hits once. At the same time, Reyes emerged as one of the Mets’ most popular players, playing with a joy he developed as a young boy and becoming an absolutely prolific creator of elaborate handshakes with every single teammate. He has brought that same energy to the Miami Marlins and Toronto Blue Jays, as well as his national team when representing the DR at three World Baseball Classics. 

Reyes’ success can be traced back to his time growing up in the Dominican Republic, where he took up the game at six years old. Despite his family lacking the ample resources required for young people to pursue a baseball career, they saw something in their young son that made them believe Reyes was destined for greatness on the diamond. Baseball became Reyes’ refuge from the poverty he and his family were immersed in on a daily basis, and indeed he saw the game as his (and his family’s) way out of that life. For their part, his parents sacrificed what little extra money they had to get their son a bat, glove, and anything else he needed to develop his skills and advance his career. It certainly helped, too, that Reyes immediately took to the game, earning accolades for his hitting and slick fielding from a young age.

Reyes’s journey has taken him from a small town in the northern portion of the Dominican Republic, to Santiago, to New York, to Miami, to Toronto, and now to Denver. While he’s always had the talent needed to be a big league success, there’s something else that has separated him from other baseball players: hard work. Motivated by a desire to help his family and to prove the many doubters wrong, Reyes quickly rose from barely being scouted to becoming a perennial MLB All-Star, all while moving to a new country and mastering a completely new language. From batting and stolen base championships to his multiple All-Star appearances, Reyes has done it all, and at 32 years old he still has his many good years in front of him. Watch the story of Reyes’ rise in the third episode of POWERADE Breaking Through above.

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