PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The weight room was Ruben Tejada's sanctuary this winter. He lifted as much as he could lift during a long offseason. He worked with a personal trainer in his native Panama, as well as Mets head trainer Ray Ramirez. He gained 10 pounds.
Tejada did, in essence, exactly what Mets manager Terry Collins thought he would: show up to camp in tremendous shape. Collins had simply hoped that at the start of such a critical season for him, taking over at shortstop for former franchise cornerstone Jose Reyes, Tejada would have done so weeks earlier.
"He just got a late start," Collins said.
When Tejada finally did arrive at the Mets' complex for his physical early Sunday morning, Collins ushered him aside to relay how he felt: not necessarily mad, but disappointed.
Collins had wanted Tejada here as early as January so he could begin meshing around the second-base bag with Daniel Murphy, his new middle-infield partner. He wanted Tejada here so he could work with strength coach Jason Craig on adding even more bulk to his frame in an effort to stay strong throughout the long season. He wanted Tejada here so that he could move past the inevitable questions about replacing Reyes, an impossible task in itself.
Instead, Tejada showed up on time, which in Collins' eyes was late. Though Tejada insisted that embassy issues prevented him from leaving Panama when he wanted to, the truth is that Tejada ran into trouble because he began the process of acquiring a visa too late. He did not realize how badly Collins wanted him in camp.
Exacerbating the issue was the fact that every other member of the starting lineup showed up at least two days early -- including Murphy, who arrived more than two weeks ago. Collins wanted Tejada in that mix.
"I'm not sure he understood the urgency," the manager said.
"I had a personal trainer in Panama," Tejada said, explaining his stance. "I thought I was better off to stay there and work out with the personal trainer and get ready and strong. I decided to do it there. I feel a little bit stronger."
Now, at least, that issue is over. The Mets worked out as a full squad for the first time on Sunday, with plenty of eyes watching Tejada's every move.
On the one hand, this is a player already well-known for his defensive capabilities, one who hit .284 with a .360 on-base percentage at the age of 21. On the other hand, Tejada is a .262 career hitter with a .329 on-base percentage over parts of five Minor League seasons, attempting to replace one of the top offensive forces in franchise history.
"I'm not asking Ruben Tejada to do what Jose Reyes did offensively," Collins said. "We can't ask anybody on this team because ... we don't have that guy."
Instead, Collins is hoping for health and improvement from David Wright, Ike Davis, Murphy and others, allowing Tejada to blend more easily into the eighth spot in the lineup. The Mets don't need power or stolen bases from Tejada -- at least not to any great extent. What they need is for him to play solid defense and, most importantly, to endure the rigors of a 162-game season.
"That's going to be the task," Collins said. "I think he's aware of what he's got to do to keep himself rested."
That's where his 10 extra pounds should come in handy. Because the Mets are entrusting Tejada with the starting shortstop position, they cannot afford for his body to break down four or five months into a long season. They need him to respond as Reyes did early in his career, bulking up enough to develop into an everyday shortstop and respectable power hitter.
Though the Mets did sign veteran Ronny Cedeno as shortstop insurance this winter, and though utility man Justin Turner is also a near lock to make the team, the goal is for Tejada to play every day. Collins does not need -- or expect -- a clone of Reyes, but he is hoping at least for a little durability.
So the comparisons, though clumsy, are also inevitable. After finally arriving at Mets camp Saturday, Tejada laughed when asked if he planned to grow dreadlocks in the style of his predecessor.
"I'm Ruben Tejada," he said in response to a different question about Reyes, before relaying a bit of his mentor's advice:
"Stay happy every day," Tejada said. "There's always a new game."