Welcome to FAFIF Turns Ten, a milestone-anniversary series in which we consider anew some of the topics that defined Mets baseball during our first decade of blogging. In this seventh of ten installments, we consider the one player who was there on our first Opening Day and who’s still here on our eleventh…and use the occasion besides to commence covering the new season just begun.
If he plays 148 games at his position in 2005, David Wright will be the No. 11 Met third baseman in terms of service at his position. Ever. He’s 179 games away from being No. 6 on the list. If he stays on track and healthy (and if he doesn’t, we’re all screwed anyway), he will be almost indisputably the greatest third baseman the Mets have ever had by his fourth season.
—“The Great Wright Hope,” February 22, 2005
He was batting seventh that day, a Monday in Cincinnati, April 4. There was talk from his manager during the spring that he’d be dropped to eighth, not because he had done anything wrong, but because he hadn’t yet done enough. His entire major league résumé was 263 at-bats, 77 hits, 40 runs batted in and 41 runs scored. It made for a promising debut in 2004, but it was relatively brief. Willie Randolph, newer to managing at this level than his third baseman was to playing, indicated someone entering his first full year in the bigs should earn a spot in the heart of his batting order. He had finished 2004 as the Mets’ No. 3 hitter, but that was under Art Howe. Randolph penciled him in to hit seventh.
So that’s where David Wright hit on his first Opening Day, in 2005. Lodged between Doug Mientkiewicz and Eric Valent, David doubled in the fourth, grounded into double plays in the second and the sixth and couldn’t do anything to keep Braden Looper from giving up ninth-inning home runs to Adam Dunn and Joe Randa. What appeared to be a glorious debut to the New Mets era of Pedro Martinez (6 IP, 12 K) and Carlos Beltran (3-for-5, HR, 3 RBI) wound up a profane 7-6 loss to the Reds.
When the season ended, David Wright had played in 160 of 162 games, batting fifth almost exclusively by August. He was a .306 hitter, a .912 slasher, the 19th Most Valuable Player in the National League by the reckoning of BBWAA voters for a team that finished over .500 (if just barely) for the first time since 2001. He was converting theoretical promise to actual. He even caught a ball with his bare hand one night in San Diego.
“It was over my right shoulder,” the 22-year-old explained. “I couldn’t reach it with my glove, so I took a stab at it.”
A simple analysis from a player who was making immediate success look easy.
David Wright can’t win the Cy Young Award as a third baseman, but he does hear unrelenting chants of “MVP!” at home, and having watched him turn Rogers Centre into yet another House of David, they don’t seem terribly exaggerated.
—“David Terrific,” June 24, 2006
He was batting fifth, per usual, after the newly acquired Carlos Delgado and ahead of the previous year’s rejuvenation story Cliff Floyd. The biggest bat of David Wright’s second Opening Day belonged to the No. 7 hitter, new Met Xavier Nady, who went 4-for-4. The biggest play of the Shea afternoon came on defense, when another import, Paul Lo Duca, sold a critical tag of Royce Clayton at the plate, even though replays showed Lo Duca dropped the ball somewhere along the way. The call held, though, and the Mets began their 2006 season on April 3 with a 3-2 win over the Washington Nationals.
They’d keep winning early and often. Fortified by the trades and signings executed by Omar Minaya and bolstered by the experience Wright and fellow homegrown rising star Jose Reyes had gained, the Mets express turned into a runaway train early. As May was winding down, Wright had his average at .332 and had knocked in the winning walkoff run on four separate occasions. By mid-June, with David excelling on offense and defense, the Mets had buried the rest of the National League East. In July, Wright was announced a starter in the All-Star Game and a participant in the Home Run Derby. He came in second in the latter before homering in the former.
His year-end statistics were a near-replica of 2005’s, another 116 RBIs, a slugging percentage again well over .500. He’d finish ninth in MVP voting for 2006, but his season wasn’t done. The Mets had won a division title, giving Wright ten more games to play. His numbers were solid against Los Angeles in the NLDS, less so versus St. Louis in the seven-game series loss for the pennant. Still, it was hard to imagine David and the Mets wouldn’t have a chance to return to the postseason stage soon. The 23-year-old third baseman could afford to be gracious in defeat.
“Give credit to Molina, give credit to the Cardinals,” he said. “They deserved it.”
“David Wright has now hit in 24 consecutive regular-season games, tying the franchise record set by Hubie Brooks in 1984 and equaled by Mike Piazza in 1999. Wright has done it across two seasons, which makes it a different animal from its predecessors, so even if he hits in a 25th straight tonight in Florida — which would be excellent — Hubie’s notch on the Mets’ statistical bedpost appears safe…for at least a couple of weeks.”
—“Hang On, Hubie,” April 18, 2007
The Mets and Cardinals were ESPN’s featured Opening Night attraction to kick off 2007. Of course they were. They were the two teams that dueled to a standstill the previous October, at least until Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright drew final blood. Despite the disappointment of how 2006 ended, there was no doubt who was favored to make it to the playoffs again.
David Wright was as much of a fixture in the Met lineup as the Mets seemed to be atop the N.L. East. He was batting fifth at Busch Stadium on April 1 — this time in front of Moises Alou — to start the season and contributed a base hit to the Mets’ 6-1 romp over the defending world champs. They’d sweep in St. Louis and threaten to run roughshod over the East all over again as the year unfolded. David hit well out of the gate, stretching his two-season hitting streak to 26, though a few bumps in his and his team’s offense would arise.
Not quite the same power hitter following his Derby appearance in Pittsburgh the summer before, David failed to homer in April. His average dipped to an uncharacteristic .239, but then Wright and just about all his teammates shaved their heads. Was it Samson in reverse? The Mets were a 33-17 club on May 29 and David would be hitting over .290 when he headed to San Francisco to start another All-Star game.
The numbers were typical Wright by season’s end: a .963 OPS, fourth in the MVP voting, his first Silver Slugger and his first Gold Glove. He batted .394 in August, .352 in September, a sensational testament to the old bromide about how it’s not where you start, but where you finish. Alas, that applied to the Mets as a whole as well. They never did build up an impregnable lead in 2007, and even when the one they held in mid-September looked safe, it crumbled. The Mets missed the playoffs by one game. Wright, at 24 the media’s go-to guy, groped for an explanation.
“It’s obviously painful,” he said after the final game eliminated them. “It hurts. But at the same time, we did it to ourselves. It’s not like it blindsides us. We gradually let this thing slip away. In all honesty, we didn’t deserve to make the playoffs.”
Hardhatted David Wright, as unreluctant a Met third baseman as Richie Hebner was reluctant, endorsed world-class Citi Field on DiamondVision with all 32 of his teeth showing and I posited that, if asked, David Wright would endorse a virus.
—“It Comes Down to Reality,” August 8, 2008
When 2008 dawned, David Wright was batting third, between Luis Castillo and Beltran. He contributed two hits and three runs batted in to support Johan Santana’s successful March 31 Mets debut (7 IP, 8 K), a 7-2 win over the Marlins at Dolphin Stadium. Wright enjoyed a typically good start to his fourth full season, but the Mets stumbled as if hung over from the way 2007 ended. On June 17, David found himself playing for his third manager, once Jerry Manuel replaced Randolph. When David found himself slumping a week later, Manuel benched the third baseman who hadn’t taken a day off all year and would never think to ask for one.
Refreshed, David elevated his game enough to earn late replacement selection to his third All-Star Game, a Yankee Stadium affair that went 15 innings. If it had gone 16, manager Clint Hurdle’s pitcher of last resort — since he’d gone through all of his hurlers — was going to be Wright. It never came to that. David returned to his natural position of third and helped lead the Mets out of their June doldrums and into first place before July was over.
As the summer wore on, the Mets began to be plagued by injuries: Fernando Tatis, Damion Easley, John Maine, Billy Wagner were all either out for the year or significant swaths of what was left. Wright kept on leading whoever took their place. By the team’s final homestand at Shea Stadium, ad hoc lineups featuring the likes of Ramon Martinez at second, Robinson Cancel catching and Nick Evans in left field were playing alongside him. The Mets were barely holding on in their quest to topple the Phillies for the division lead or the Brewers for the Wild Card.
One of their best chances came on September 24 when rookie Daniel Murphy led off the bottom of the ninth with a triple in a tie game against the Cubs. Wright was up next with a chance to win it with no more than a fly ball. Instead, he struck out. The Cubs got out of the inning, Luis Ayala surrendered three runs in the tenth and the Mets lost the one game that again proved the margin between their making the playoffs and their going home.
In the final half-inning of baseball Shea would ever see, the very last opportunity these Mets had, Wright led off by popping out to second. For the first time, David heard a torrent of boos at home. At that moment, his career high 33 home runs, his team record-tying 124 runs batted in, his .302 batting average, his ultimate seventh-place finish in the MVP voting and his pending pair of Gold Glove and Silver Slugger prizes, cut no ice with a riled-up crowd. The 25-year-old, considered as clutch a player as could be hoped for for most of his time in the big leagues, had not come through when the Mets needed it.
“We failed,” Wright acknowledged. “We failed as a team.”
Saturday my bête noire was Eric Karros. Can Fox please send him out for coffee for nine or more innings? How inane and generally incommunicative does an ex-ballplayer need to be to become a backup Fox baseball broadcaster? In the production meeting, was Eric instructed to treat every viewer as utterly unfamiliar with the sport and its participants? […] Eric Karros seemed to believe he had a secret discovery in David Wright, as if it was time for America to meet the wonder. “He’s the future of this team,” Karros babbled. “Mike Piazza introduced me to him when he came up and…” David Wright came up five years ago. David Wright was the future of this team in 2004. David Wright is the present of this team in 2009. His present is scheduled to endure for quite a few more seasons, knock wood or whatever substance constitutes Brian Wilson’s glove. David Wright is a three-time All-Star, two-time Silver Slugger, et al, et al. Even folks going to the trouble of tuning in a baseball game outside of New York have probably heard of him and know something of what he’s been up to since he shook Eric Karros’ hand a half-decade ago.
—“Nine in the Afternoon,” May 17, 2009
David Wright’s fifth Opening Day represented a return to the scene of the crime, if you will. It was Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, where his first Opening Day had gotten away. This year the idea was to start to get back what had slipped from the Mets’ grasp on the Closing Days of the two immediately preceding seasons. Slotted third between Murphy and Delgado, Wright collected a hit and two walks in the Mets’ 2-1 win that was most notable for the great job the revamped bullpen did in holding that lead. Sean Green, J.J. Putz and Frankie Rodriguez combined for 3⅓ scoreless innings on April 6.
It was the Home Opener that Mets fans anticipated most, the first to take place at Citi Field, the park where Wright, Murphy and Evans took a little under-construction batting practice in 2008 to test out its roomy dimensions. According to Jeff Wilpon, his players liked it just fine. “Evans put it halfway up the left field deck,” the COO said. “It’s totally reachable.” The actual proof of how power would play came when the Mets opened the park for real on April 13 and Wright, appropriately enough, lashed the first Mets home run in its history. Discouragingly, it came in a losing Met cause, as the home team fell to the Padres, 6-5.
Met losses at Citi Field would become familiar sights in 2009 as the team got its collapsing out of the way early, finishing a distant fourth under a mountain of injuries and a general sense of malaise. Also infrequent were Wright homers to right. The new field seemed to be playing games with his swing. Though he earned another start at third in the All-Star Game, the 26-year-old’s slugging wasn’t quite what it had been at Shea Stadium. Then, with only eight home runs on his ledger in mid-August, the worst hit of all occurred when Matt Cain of the Giants beaned him. David visited the disabled list for the first time in his career, and when he came back, he didn’t seem to be at ease at the plate. He still hit over .300, he was still getting on base close to 40% of the time, but this season was a lost cause for Wright from start to finish.
“In the back of your mind, it’s there,” he admitted in September regarding the memory of being beaned. “I think it’s only kind of natural, kind of normal. Hopefully the more at-bats you get, the more comfortable you feel. There wasn’t necessarily anything prohibiting me from going in there and doing what I did before I got hit, but of course you see a ball that kind of comes up and in, it makes you flinch a little more than normal.”
Somewhere along the way Washington scored a run. Later, the Mets scored a run. At all other intervals nothing else happened, unless you count Jerry Manuel — the imminently erstwhile Chief Logistics Officer for Bizarre Inc. — pulling his two star players from the game in the top of the ninth while the game’s outcome remained completely in doubt. Neither David Wright nor Jose Reyes was retiring after Sunday, neither had broken a cherished record, neither was the Pope or anything like that. Yet Jerry treated his two best players as if they were Hank Aaron and Cal Ripken at an All-Star Game. Earth to Jerry: The game counted. It was 1-1. We could have used our two best players to theoretically help win it. That would have been nice. Instead, it was six innings of Mike Hessman and Joaquin Arias — fine fellows, no doubt, but not David Wright and Jose Reyes in a 1-1 game. Not even close. Maybe the Mets still would have flailed without success for several more innings and hours with Jose and David remaining active, but I’d prefer watching my team go down with its best as opposed to the pronounced opposite. Which brings us back to Ollie.
—“A Product of Bizarre Inc.,” October 4, 2010
The 70-92 disaster of the year before did not dim David Wright’s enthusiasm when his team gathered in Port St. Lucie to prepare for 2010.
“We’re expecting to go out there and win the National League East and go deep in the playoffs and win the World Series,” he said in February. “That is the expectation I’ve gotten from the guys who are here early, and I [expect] this team to get back to where we are winning the National League East.”
It seemed either admirable enthusiasm or a touch of delusion had overcome Wright in the Florida sun, and his forecast looked no more realistic when Manuel filled out his lineup card for David’s sixth Opening Day, at Citi Field, on April 5. With Reyes slow to recover from a thyroid condition, Alex Cora was the leadoff hitter, the relentlessly disappointing Luis Castillo was batting second and retread Mike Jacobs was the cleanup man. Down the order would be a pile of other people’s castoffs, including Gary Matthews, Jr., Jeff Francouer and Rod Barajas. Yet solidly ensconced in the three-hole was Wright, and he was whole again. In the first inning, David lined a ball over the right field fence to boost Santana to a 2-0 lead en route to a 7-1 win.
The Mets made some personnel adjustments along the way — Angel Pagan went to center, Ike Davis was called up to play first — and they found their collective footing, competing for first place for much of the first half. The biggest reason was 27-year-old Wright, who, for the most part, returned to his pre-2009 groove. His batting average was only .283 and he struck out a career-high 161 times, but his slugging percentage rose back over .500 and he garnered enough votes to start another All-Star game and enough writer support to show up in the MVP rankings. He even began driving around town in Lincoln commercials that aired regularly during SNY telecasts.
Not a bad showing for a player whose prognostication didn’t pan out. The Mets fell apart in the second half and came nowhere near winning the National League East or much of anything else. It ended up costing both GM Minaya and manager Manuel their jobs.
“At the end of the day,” he said when another losing season was over, “it’s tough to really enjoy anything [when] we…don’t make the playoffs again.”
David Wright is one second opinion away from going on the Disabled List. MRI reveals lower back stress fracture. Examination of Mets roster reveals no obvious alternatives for third base or the batting order. True, he was mostly sucking, but just as true, he’s David Wright.
—“Wright Out, Fright In,” May 16, 2011
Playing third, batting third. New manager Terry Collins had much to think about as he took over the Mets for the 2011 season, but David Wright wasn’t an issue. Collins could simply pencil him in after left fielder Willie Harris and let David do his thing on April 1. Unfortunately, his thing was an 0-for-4 on the first night of the season, as Mike Pelfrey and the Mets lost in Miami to the Marlins, 6-2.
The Mets and Wright shared miserable starts, with Collins’s crew scuffling out of the gate to a 5-13 record and Wright plummeting to a .226 average in mid-May, when a back injury sustained in a play at third (the Astros’ Carlos Lee fell on top of him in April) got the best of him and sidelined him for two-plus months.
In his absence, the Mets caught a little bit of fire, led by Wright’s “baseball brother” Reyes, who successfully chased down a batting title, a Mets first. Wright’s return to the lineup on July 22 preceded their fall from the cusp of contention by about a week. It was right around then that Beltran was traded to San Francisco for prospect Zack Wheeler. The season’s end would mark the conclusion of Reyes’s New York tenure, as the free agent shortstop was headed for the free-spending Marlins. David, at 28 the last of the three core members of the team that came so close to making the World Series five years earlier, wound down his quietest season yet, batting an unsightly .254.
David’s most memorable moment of 2011 came when Fred Wilpon saw fit to single him out in an infamous interview with the New Yorker, most of which was devoted to dissecting his relationship to Bernard Madoff. Though the Mets had promoted him as the face of their franchise almost from the time they brought him up in 2004, regularly encouraged comparisons to crosstown shortstop Derek Jeter and had asked him to shake every hand and pose for every picture, Wilpon identified Wright as merely “a really good kid” and “a very good player,” but “not a superstar”. He was also less than effusive about Beltran and Reyes.
“Fred is a good man and is obviously going through some difficult times,” was Wright’s restrained response to his embattled owner. “There is nothing more productive that I can say at this point.”
I took a fantastic pregame nap Saturday afternoon. It was fantastic because I awoke to the sound of David Wright playing, David Wright batting and David Wright going way deeper than I’d been sleeping. No, Howie and Josh assured me, I wasn’t dreaming. David was not on the DL, despite what everybody and his Twitter account was insisting would be a sure and depressing thing as regarded our third baseman’s right pinky. Bison Josh Satin prowled the Met clubhouse, but was not activated. No need for his emergency services. David was able to grip everything he needed, so he grabbed a bat, gripped the hell out of it to homer some 428 feet from where he stood at Citizens Bank Park. He was playing through the pain — he swore he could tolerate it — and he was putting the Mets into an early lead, one which increased as the day progressed. David kept playing and kept batting and kept getting hits. He even gripped the ball and threw it fine.
—“Live from Philadelphia, It’s David Wright!” April 14, 2012
It was one of those days…one of those exquisite Opening Days Mets fans could wrap their hopes around. Following moving ceremonies that honored the recently deceased Gary Carter, Santana returned to the mound for the first time since 2010 and led the Mets to a 1-0 win over the Braves to start 2012 in style. Making a less dramatic but definitely impactful contribution on April 5 was Wright, who recorded two hits from the three-hole, including the single that brought home leadoff hitter Andres Torres in the sixth.
The Mets won their first four games, tying the franchise record, and stayed reasonably hot into early June, a 31-23 bolt whose crowning moment came June 1 when Santana threw the team’s first-ever no-hitter. While Johan and R.A. Dickey drew much of the attention during the Mets’ productive early months, it was Wright who keyed the attack. With no Beltran and no Reyes, David was the undisputed best player on the team, batting over .400 as late as May 24. Though he was jobbed out of a starting spot on the National League All-Star team when the Giants banged the drum resoundingly for Pablo Sandoval, he was named to his sixth squad.
Things turned predictably sour for his team after the All-Star break, as the Mets disappeared again from the Wild Card race, Santana went on the DL and the remaining talent level proved underwhelming. The Mets were headed for another fourth-place finish, but Wright upheld his end of the bargain. On September 26, he beat out the infield single that pushed him past Ed Kranepool on the Mets’ all-time list (1,419) and the next day he struck the three-run homer that propelled Dickey to the first Met 20-win season since 1990. For his troubles, David came in sixth in the N.L. MVP voting. He’d have preferred another trip to the postseason, but that wasn’t coming.
Still, the hit record was nice, especially since it came to him in a moment of collective triumph. “Obviously, it’s humbling, the 29-year-old said, “A little more exciting — we won today. […] To be able to do it here at home was extra special.”
David Wright as Mets captain? Don’t be silly. David Wright’s not a captain. David Wright’s an ambassador. David Wright puts the Mets’ best foot forward. David Wright makes everybody feel good about the Mets, including all those new Mets to whom he shows apartments, restaurants and the ropes. David Wright represents the Mets in other places, even to other countries. Look what he did while wearing a USA uniform versus Italy and Canada. Whatever people in those strange lands thought of the Mets before (if they thought them about them at all), they’re thinking one thing above all now: That’s the team that has David Wright. How bad could a team with David Wright be?
—“Ambassador Wright,” March 12, 2013
Before David Wright ever got anywhere near Opening Day 2013, he was already having a spectacular season. First, he was playing under a new, $138 million contract that was slated to keep him a Met into 2020, thus squashing talk that he’d be the next high-profile Met out the door. Next, he flirted with national icon status, starring for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic and gaining the nickname Captain America in the patriotic process. Finally, the role long envisioned for him by fans, teammates and managers alike had come to pass: he was named the fourth captain in Mets history, joining Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and John Franco in the annals of anointed leaders.
He took the field on April 1 without a C on his chest (no need, he decided) but to a thunderous ovation in recognition of all the 30-year-old third baseman had meant to a franchise that hadn’t had anything else of lasting value to applaud during his time. David batted third, drove in a run, scored a run and enjoyed the 11-2 romp over the Padres engineered primarily by starter Jon Niese (6.2 IP, 4 H) and heretofore unknown center fielder Collin Cowgill (a grand slam).
The good vibes didn’t last. The Mets slipped under .500 to stay in April and Wright spent the final two months of the season battling hamstring woes. As a result, he was limited to 112 games, though they were pretty good ones when he was healthy. He racked up a .307 average, a .904 OPS, 18 homers and his seventh All-Star selection.
This one was special. The All-Star Game of 2013 was played at Citi Field, where nothing quite so big had ever been scheduled. It was important to the Mets that Wright gain election to start, and he did. Not only was he in the field when the game began — behind pitcher Matt Harvey, no less — he served as captain of the National League’s Home Run Derby contingent. It wasn’t of much concern that he didn’t come close to winning it this time. The point was that in the middle of July, with all of baseball paying attention, Wright was at the sport’s center. The epic applause he received from the Met-leaning crowd was enormous that blazing hot Monday evening. The greeting would be echoed when he was introduced before the main event Tuesday; when he played ceremonial catcher for Tom Seaver’s first pitch; and again when he came to the plate in the second inning against the White Sox’ Chris Sale.
“To have that kind of ovation when your name’s called — that’s every kid’s dream playing Little League,” Wright exulted. “Hearing your name called and the crowd going wild. That’s really special, and I can’t thank these fans enough.”
Missing from the lineup and all lineups for the duration was and will be David Wright, who will do something most people aren’t tempted to do these days: he’s going to take a seat at Citi Field. That shoulder of his that either was or wasn’t bothering him and was or wasn’t hindering him, well, guess what: it bothered him and it hindered him and now he’s going to rest it. One wants to applaud his determination to play through the pain. In a short series of major import, that would be admirable. Down the stretch in a fierce battle for the playoffs, it would be monumental. When your team has been wallowing below .500 and marking time toward next year or whenever, you weren’t helping. Put another way, when does playing in a diminished state make you a better hitter and how does it boost your team’s chances of winning? Gentle admonishment complete. Feel better, David.
—“A Good Hair Day,” September 10, 2014
“Losing,” Wright declared in January of 2014, “is unacceptable.” The Captain was espousing the kind of optimism that five consecutive losing seasons hadn’t beaten out of him. “Although it was a great run in 2006, I think that we’re in store for an even greater run in years to come.”
That was the voice that made David Wright the undisputed leader of the Mets players, and before his tenth Opening Day rolled around, his visage would have a good run of its own, being named “the Face of MLB” in a fan Twitter poll. Wright, who never seemed to want to make much out of anything that wasn’t a Mets win, took the selection in stride, thanking his parents for the good genes that presumably led to the victorious face.
He wouldn’t be able to make one of those when the next season began. On March 31, batting third between Juan Lagares and Curtis Granderson, the newly married 31-year-old was close to celebrating another successful season-opener at Citi Field, but a ninth-inning lead got away from Bobby Parnell and extras loomed. Wright homered in the bottom of the tenth, but what sounds heroic turned out meaningless. The Nationals had scored four in the top of the inning and prevailed, 9-7.
Neither the Mets nor Wright could get untracked in 2014. For the team, it was a familiar story. For Wright, it was more disturbing. He was hitting with virtually no power and was nowhere near .300. The Face of MLB admitted to a left shoulder of woe (it was roughed up on a slide at second). Refusing to yield much playing time and not wishing to make excuses, he kept going. But it didn’t get better and he finally shut it down on following the game of September 8. His totals were distressingly ordinary: a .698 OPS and only eight home runs.
“I think that there were times where I should have done better, that I could have done better,” he said. “It’s obvious this season has left a sour taste in my mouth, as far as both the injury side of it and the production side of it. But I’m confident after getting healthy and going through as normal of an off-season as possible that I’ll return doing what I firmly believe that I’m capable of doing on the baseball field.”
There’s a gathering critical mass of position-playing ability in Flushing. It hasn’t fully come together yet, but Cuddyer pushes it toward coalescing. I’d be a bit more excited if our core wasn’t leaning a bit heavily on older guys who you hope haven’t aged too much and younger guys who still need to completely ripen. Those who are approaching their prime (Lagares, d’Arnaud) and those who are drifting past it (Wright, Granderson, Cuddyer) surround a couple of guys (Duda, Murphy) who are as at high a level as they’re probably gonna get. Somewhere amid these demographics, there is a best-case scenario developing, with bases being reached and runs being scored and an offense that isn’t so shaky or shallow anymore.
—“Aiming Higher With Michael Cuddyer,” November 11, 2014
Did it matter to David Wright that on his eleventh Opening Day, at Nationals Park, his manager decided to bat him second, somewhere he’d never been slotted on Opening Day or too often on any other days, certainly not recently?
Does stuff like that ever matter to Wright? Or if it does, would he ever cop to it?
“‘Terry,’” he said he told his manager during Spring Training 2015, “‘I don’t care. Just bat me wherever you think is best to help this team win, whether it’s second, third, sixth, seventh. It doesn’t matter.’ I don’t think it’s a big deal at all.”
Thus, on April 6, 2015, David batted second in a starting lineup for the first time since August 31, 2010. Did it make a difference? Well, the 32-year-old third baseman went 0-4, so you might think something was up, considering how good he’d been through all the Opening Days and Nights of his lives. Prior to Opener No. 11, the Mets tweeted these figures:
• .361 batting average
• 4 home runs
• 11 runs batted in
• And as soon as this game was official, 11 starts, tying him with Tom Seaver and Buddy Harrelson for the most in team history.
Mosts in team history were nothing new to David Wright as 2015 approached. His updated major league résumé through 2014 included 5,707 at-bats, 1,702 hits, 939 runs batted in and 907 runs scored. No Met has totaled more. He is or figures soon enough to be first in just about everything that isn’t intensely speed-related. The non-pitching section of the franchise record book might as well as have his face on cover.
Even if Fred Wilpon still wishes to argue the superstar point, what’s not up for debate is Wright’s status as an institution, both in Flushing and throughout baseball. The “one constant” line from Field Of Dreams surely applies to him. He is the last captain extant on any team. With Jimmy Rollins having moved on to Los Angeles, David has played in more games as a homegrown, one-team player than anybody active. Given that his first game came in July of 2004, when Olympic Stadium was still in use and the Expos were still in Montreal, he may go down as the last player to play a National League game on artificial turf in North America.
Between 2005 and 2014, what I like to think of as the first decade of the Faith and Fear era, 261 different players played as Mets. Some, like Reyes and Beltran and Santana and Dickey, will be long remembered. More seemed to be just passing through. 260 of them can be thought of as teammates of David Wright. After Opening Day in 2015, when Michael Cuddyer (recruited by old chum Wright to join as a free agent from the Rockies, which provides neat symmetry to Wright having been drafted by the Mets via a compensation pick provided them when their free agent, Mike Hampton, signed with Colorado in 2000), John Mayberry, Jr., and Jerry Blevins made their Met debuts, the all-time Met count reached 987. So that’s 263 Mets teammates for Wright since his first Opening Day, plus a couple of handfuls who were here when he arrived in ’04, but didn’t make it to ’05: your John Franco, your Al Leiter, your Joe Hietpas, even.
(Hietpas, famous for catching the final half-inning of the 162nd game of 2004 and doing literally nothing else in the majors, is one of 70 players to have made his MLB debut as a Met since Wright broke in.)
However you add it up, more than a quarter of all the players who have ever played for the Mets have played with David Wright, the one who — to paraphrase from Roger Kahn — stayed in Flushing. Many have been led by David Wright, whether formally as captain or by simply taking their cue from the guy who’d been around the longest and accomplished the most and didn’t make “a big deal” out of any of it, save for his desire to win. He still talks about 2006 as the high point of his career. “Now,” he said on the eve of 2015, “you understand just how much it means.” He rarely cares to mention any individual feats.
On his eleventh Opening Day, against the long-ago Montreal Expos who became the Washington Nationals the same day he played his first Opening Day in 2005, Wright didn’t get a hit. But he did hit the ball. In the sixth inning with two out and Granderson on first, Max Scherzer was outdueling Bartolo Colon and no-hitting the Mets for a 1-0 lead. Wright didn’t appear to help Colon’s cause when he popped a ball into shortest right field.
But you learn a few things in your twelfth season and on your eleventh Opening Day.
“I hit it and I was upset that I popped it up,” he said. “But then I made my way down to first. I try to run everything out.”
David’s running was no false hustle. There was miscommunication between the new National second baseman Dan Uggla and the old National shortstop Ian Desmond. Uggla seemed to have the ball. Then Desmond called him off.
Then Desmond dropped it.
“As I hit first going to second, I saw a little confusion,” Wright recounted after the game. “So I wanted to make sure I got to second, at least.”
He did, while Granderson landed on third. Because they got where they were going, Lucas Duda was able to take full advantage when he delivered the first base hit off Scherzer, a line single to right that plated both of them and gave the Mets a 2-1 lead.
“We were fortunate,” Wright said.
Colon went six innings, yielding only a solo home run to Bryce Harper. Travis d’Arnaud tripled in a third run in the seventh. Carlos Torres and Jeurys Familia took care of Washington in the home seventh and eighth. All that remained was for Jenrry Mejia to run in from the visitors’ bullpen and pitch the ninth.
Except Mejia was feeling elbow pain and the Mets’ designated closer was suddenly out of action for nobody knew how long. In this age of specialization, where every reliever desires to know his role and every manager strives to clarify it, Collins was forced to vamp. In came ex-Nat Blevins to retire Harper. Exit Blevins, enter Buddy Carlyle, the incredibly well-traveled vet who was barely in the Mets’ plans until approximately 48 hours earlier. Carlyle had been pitching on and off in the big leagues since 1999 and had never recorded a save. He had never pitched on Opening Day until now.
A Mets game isn’t truly a Mets game until a Mets fan braces for the worst. Here in the bottom of the ninth, we had ourselves an official ballgame.
Carlyle will never rival Wright in the Mets record book — he is more likely to land among the Collin Cowgill curiosities — but he was having a moment in this spotlight. One ground ball from Ryan Zimmerman to shortstop. Another ground ball from Wilson Ramos to shortstop. Wilmer Flores, at one point a budding third baseman in an organization where there’s been no future in that job title since July 21, 2004, handled both of them cleanly, firing them to Duda for the second and third outs.
For the first time in his major league career, Buddy Carlyle was a closer. For the eighth time in his major league career, David Wright was a winner on Opening Day, 3-1. The mighty Nationals were 0-1. The 2015 Mets were 1-0.
It might not be any kind of sign of things to come. Wright’s high-fived at the end of seven other Openers. There was no pot of World Series gold at the end of the rainbows that followed. Most of the seasons that unfurled from those initial happy recaps offered no rainbow at all, just dark clouds of the unpuffy variety. Which is not to say it’s not worth winning on Opening Day. It’s just that you can only do so much in one game.
Except Wright endeavors to do more in every game every day, just like you get the feeling he cares more and acts on his concerns more. He can’t secure a playoff berth by himself, but if he can move to make a person’s life better, he will. Take the way he took it upon himself to host Justin and Jaden Ramos, the sons of Rafael Ramos, one of the NYPD officers brutally murdered in December. It was more than a hello, how do you do that Wright gave them at Spring Training this year. The boys got lockers in the Met clubhouse and a big piece of the third baseman’s time. Wright’s a son of law enforcement himself and doing the, well, Wright thing is just what he does.
“Justin and Jaden are Mets fans,” Governor Cuomo said at their father’s funeral, “which tells us a lot about them. It means they are really tough, and really committed, and really, really, really loyal.” To Wright, it didn’t matter that the kids were Mets fans, but it was true and that made his gesture all the more meaningful. “In fourth grade,” Justin Ramos said, “he was like my biggest idol,” and now he was having dinner with him. Said their mother, “It’s actually brought a smile to my face to see them so happy.”
You know Wright wants to spread more happiness and he wants to do it through the power of winning and he wants smiles on the faces of all who root for him. I used to think there was something robotic about his reflexive proclamations that the Mets were going to win this year or at least be positioned to win. If I could see that was nonsense, how come he couldn’t? I’ve now come to see Wright is a romantic. He talks about growing up a Mets fan in Norfolk. Only a Mets fan could be the kind of believer he’s been this long with so little to show for it.
“I fully expect us to be in the playoffs,” he said in January. He has to say that, not because somebody forces him to, but because he’s gotta believe.
We know how that goes. Especially after beating the Nationals on Opening Day .