Reyes mentioned a nearby supermarket chain, Bravo, with a cafeteria that he and many minor leaguers frequented. I later stopped by for lunch and realized the potential for the story when I saw the selection of food at the cafeteria and the vibrancy of the supermarket.
I lived in Venezuela as a child, so I was immediately drawn to the tequeños, fried breaded cheese sticks. But I also noticed food from many different countries: Cuban coffee, Puerto Rican mofongo, Dominican oxtail stew. An assortment of people — from construction workers to families — waited in line for food. It looked, smelled and sounded like Latin America.
I told the longtime Mets infielder Jose Reyes and the top prospect Amed Rosario, both from the Dominican Republic, about my visit to Bravo, and their eyes lit up. They told me that they ate there often and that other teammates did, too. I tried to find a time when I could tag along with outfielder Juan Lagares, Reyes and Rosario on a visit.
This spring, Reyes agreed to let me and a photographer, Zack Wittman, tag along when he went to the supermarket for lunch.
A week before, I paid a visit to the supermarket and later talked to Luis Merejo, one of the owners, who told me about his baseball career, how he got into the supermarket business and how he had gotten to know many Mets players over the years.
I met him at the supermarket one morning and interviewed him over a breakfast of eggs, mangú (Dominican mashed plantains) and a pastelito de queso (cheese pastry). He walked me around the supermarket and showed me the house he owned nearby where Rosario and a few former players, who now work in the store’s meat department, rented rooms. Behind the house was a batting cage where Merejo’s son and Rosario practiced their swings.
I later interviewed the supermarket staff and the Mets’ Latino players who ate there often. Wittman spent a few days taking photos, and we hung out in the bustling kitchen and cafeteria. The cooks were all Latinas and happy to tell us what they were making. Later, my editor, Randy Archibold, helped me focus the story.
I’ll admit it: At first, I was sort of following my stomach. But I ended up finding a cultural story about a supermarket that brought a slice of home — and more — to baseball players who are far from it.