Cruz Has Big Shoes to Fill

There can be pressure to play the game when your father had 2,251 hits in the big leagues and your family comes as close to a baseball aristocracy as there is. Inside Pitch sat down with Cruz to find out about his family has shaped his career and how he can turn it all around.

"My older brother was playing baseball, my father was playing baseball, my uncles are both playing baseball, their kids are playing baseball," said Binghamton Mets second baseman Enrique Cruz, who goes by "J.E.", the son of Jose Cruz. "So whenever I got a basketball to try to shoot some hoops they were like, ‘Why don't you have a glove instead?'"

J.E. has one and, by most accounts, uses it well. The right-hander, who turns 26 today, was drafted by the Yankees in the 14th round of the 2003 draft, fresh off an NCAA Championship with Rice—the same university his brother, San Diego Padres outfielder Jose Cruz, Jr., attended.

"I'm a huge fan of his," J.E. said of Jose Jr. "Every time I watch him play baseball I feel like I'm playing there."

Growing up a Cruz, J.E. said he never felt like he was in the shadow of his father or his family. It actually took some time to hit him just how good his father was.

"I never realized how good my dad was in the majors ‘till like (I was) a sophomore in high school," J.E. said. "I never really broke it down. I never really looked at his stats. That's when it all made sense."

J.E.'s genes did not keep him from bouncing around some early in his career. The Yankees traded him to the Cubs in May of 2005, and the following offseason, he signed as a free agent with the Mets. He batted .278 with five homers and 42 RBI for the Florida State League champion St. Lucie Mets in 2006, after struggling in Binghamton the first month and a half of the season.

"Last year I felt like that was probably the best thing to do, go back to St. Lucie and be able to play everyday," J.E. said.

This year, J.E. is back as a role-player for the B-Mets, and it has been a struggle again. He has a .177 average with two homers and 16 RBI in 175 at-bats for the B-Mets. But you would never know it.

"With him kind of being in limbo and stuff with those other teams, if he's not playing or he's playing, he's always the same guy," said B-Mets outfielder and J.E.'s two-year teammate Jamar Hill. "He's never a negative guy in the locker room."

Coming into July, the most at-bats J.E. had received in a month this season was 68, in May. But since early July, when a broken finger landed starting shortstop Jose Coronado on the disabled, starting second baseman Wilson Batista, as well as Ryan Coultas, have played shortstop, and J.E. has seen most of the time at second.

"It's kind of like a positive-negative deal," J.E. said of Coronado's injury. "It's negative because you know Coronado's a great shortstop and can do a lot of things, and it's positive just for a player like me in my situation."

J.E. has exacerbated his situation by trying to do too much.

"Especially with your numbers not being where you want them to be," he said, "Sometimes subconsciously in your mind you try to do more, and that's a constant battle for me."

J.E. works with B-Mets hitting coach Nelson Silverio on his approach, just staying up the middle with his swings, and within himself in his efforts. Defensively, he is polished.

"It's just a matter of continuing to working on pivots around the bag, creating the double play," said Mets infield coordinator Kevin Morgan. "He's a guy that has all the tools to end up playing the position well; it's just a matter of continuing the repetitions so he can continue to be consistent."

J.E. might not let on to it much in the clubhouse, but he feels the aggravation of his performance and the team's. The B-Mets are 20½ games back, in last place in the Eastern League Northern Division.

"It's tough," J.E. said. "You might be seeing me with a smile on my face here, but it's tough. Sometimes I go to my apartment and you know, (curse) myself, but you got to just keep kicking and keep smiling and keep trying to have fun and maintain the belief that things will turn around."

They should, or at least easily could. "He's been struggling this year but he's a lot better than what he's been showing," said B-Mets manager Mako Oliveras. "I think he's putting too much pressure on himself."

"He's got the genes," Oliveras added.