It was December of 2000, and the New York Mets, fresh off a trip to the World Series had just lost one of their best pitchers, NLCS MVP Mike Hampton, to the Colorado Rockies via free agency. While many Mets fans were angry and upset at Hampton for leaving (including yours truly), there was a silver lining to it. Major League Baseball rules stipulated that when a team lost a player to free agency, they were awarded a supplemental 1st round pick in the upcoming amateur draft the following year. So while Hampton was enjoying watching his batting average (and ERA) balloon out in the thin air of Colorado because of his love for the “school system”, the Mets very quietly used that supplemental pick from the Rockies and selected a 3rd baseman out of Norfolk Virginia in the 2001 draft. A handsome young man with a big smile who also happened to be a diehard Mets fan, as he grew up not too far from where the team’s long time Triple A affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, played.
That handsome kid with the big smile turned out to be David Allen Wright, who progressed quickly through the Mets farm system the next few years, finally making his MLB debut on July 21, 2004 against the Montreal Expos, and thus beginning a long 14-year relationship.
To see David Wright in his first 4 years in a Mets uniform was a thing of beauty. With that beautiful upper cut swing, his ability to hit the ball the other way, and his slick fielding (no one did the bare handed pick on a bunt up the 3rd baseline better), David quickly established himself as a franchise player, and along with SS Jose Reyes, became a key building block towards what many fans were hoping would lead to a World Championship. And in 2006 it all came together for the Mets, as they dominated baseball with a star studded team that included Wright, Reyes, Pedro Martinez, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, making it all the way to the NLCS. The dream season never came to fruition though, as the Mets would end up losing a crushing Game 7 to the St. Louis Cardinals in a game mostly remembered for Beltran taking a called 3rd strike with the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning. Despite this disappointment however, there was plenty of reason for optimism for the team heading into next year.
And then the collapse happened.
The 2007 baseball season is a year that still haunts Mets fans to this day. We all know what happened. Leading the NL East by 7 games with 17 to play in the season, the Mets went 5-12, completing one of the most historical collapses in Major League Baseball history. The dark cloud of that collapse carried over into the 2008 season as the team played up and down most of the season, but still managed to find itself in first place by 3.5 games with the same 17 games left to play in mid-September. They blew that lead also, but in much quicker fashion, and were eliminated from playoff contention on the last day of the season for the 2nd year in a row by the same team (the Florida Marlins), in their home ballpark, Shea Stadium, which was in its final season.
My feeling was that David was never the same after that.
The 2009 season showed the first signs of cracks in the armor for the All-Star 3rd baseman. After 4 straight seasons of averaging almost 30 HR’s a year and driving in 100+ runs, Wright only managed to hit 10 that year, and drove in only 72. Some say it was the Mets new ballpark, Citi Field, which became famous for many fly balls that would have been homers in Shea, dying on the warning tracks instead. Others attribute it to him getting drilled in the head with a 93 MPH fastball and suffering a concussion in a game against the Giants. Both most likely factored into the drop in Wright’s production. But he would bounce back with 29 homers and 103 RBI’s in 2010, and finished 6th in MVP voting in 2012 with 21 HR’s and 93 RBI’s. This was sadly however, David’s last great season for the Mets as he would battle various back, shoulder and leg injuries over the next few seasons, despite signing a contract extension in November of 2012, and being named Captain in March of the following year.
After a pretty good campaign in 2013 in which he batted .307 with 18 HR’s and 58 RBI’s in only 112 games, David hit the skids for good the following year, hitting a career low .269, with only 8 HR’s, and appearing in 134 games. Finally in 2015, after being on the DL with another leg injury, Wright was diagnosed with spinal stenosis in his back, the same injury that prematurely ended the career of Yankees great, Don Mattingly. He would be out most of the season, but returned in August, hitting a mammoth HR in his first at bat against the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite playing in only 38 games that year, Wright came back at just the right time as the Mets, after being up and down most of the season, put together a red hot August and overtook the heavily favored Washington Nationals to win the NL East Title, returning to the postseason for the first time since that ill-fated 2006 season.
The 2015 Playoffs turned out to be a redemption of sorts for Wright, as he and Mets did what they failed to do 9 years earlier, win the National League Pennant and make it to the World Series for the first time in 15 years. Sadly, it didn’t turn out to be a full Cinderella run as they fell to the Kansas City Royals in 5 games. Despite this, the Captain provided fans with one last glimpse of vintage Wright, crushing another massive home run in Game 3. However, considering the extensive 4 to 5 hours pregame preparation program he had to go through just to be able to play in a game, it was clear that at almost 33 years of age, David was playing on borrowed time.
Wright would play in only 37 games in 2016, as he went on the DL again in June with a herniated disc in his neck, which required season ending surgery. He missed the entire 2017 season, and has yet to play in 2018 at the time of the writing of this article.
Recently Wright and the Mets held a press conference to announce that he would return one more time for the final home stand of the 2018 season. He will be activated on September 25th, and will start at 3rd base for the final time on September 29th, alongside his old left side of the infield partner, Jose Reyes, who he has not played a game with since 2011, when Reyes departed via free agency. However, despite being activated for this final string of home games, Wright has made it clear that he understands his condition will not improve as per his doctors, and that he doesn’t foresee being able to play next season, or any other for that matter. He didn’t come out and say the actual words, but make no mistake. Wright will be retiring at the end of this season.
The story of David Wright is one of both triumph and tragedy. There is no denying that he is one of the greatest Mets of all time. He is the team’s all-time leader in virtually every offensive category, is a seven time All-Star and has played in a World Series. Only players on 4 other Mets teams can say that. The tragedy here is that injuries robbed him of so much more. This was a player that if he remained healthy, would have very likely had a Hall of Fame career. I remember saying to someone after his breakout season in 2005 that he was going be a perennial MVP candidate for the Mets. He was THAT good. But his body betrayed him, very similar to the way Mattingly’s betrayed him, and none of that is David’s fault. As mentioned earlier, I never thought he was the same after the 2007 and 2008 seasons. He still put up great numbers in those years, but I felt the collapse in ‘07 and the near replication of it in ‘08 took something out of him mentally, and that he battled the memory of those failures in addition to all the injuries for a good 8 years. That’s why 2015 was so special. Despite falling short in the World Series, Wright did get one last shot at redemption, made the most of it, and helped get the team to where it should been in 2006, a team everyone predicted to win it all that year. But after that, his body continued to tell him what it had been for a long time: That it was time to hang it up.
As a fan of the team for over 33 years, David Wright is one of my all-time favorite New York Mets. He is right up there with Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Doc Gooden, Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza. So September 29th will be a very sad day for me and many others. But at the same time, it will be one filled with joy as Mets fans get a chance to see the Captain take the field one last time. And for that one day, we can forget about another lost season, forget the disappointment of 2006, the pain of 2007 and 2008, and pack the stadium one last time for the handsome kid with the big smile from Norfolk, Virginia.
And you never know, maybe..just maybe the great #5 will have some old tricks up his sleeve. Maybe we will see a bare handed pick on a bunt up the third base line. Maybe we will see an opposite field double, and maybe we will see that beautiful upper cut swing go deep for one last massive homerun.
Either way, the Captain will get the send he deserves. And for a fan base that doesn’t get much, that will be enough on a late September afternoon in a season that has been over since the middle of June.
Thanks for everything David. We will miss you.
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