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Greg Prince and Jason Fry
Faith and Fear in Flushing made its debut on Feb. 16, 2005, the brainchild of two longtime friends and lifelong Met fans.

Greg Prince discovered the Mets when he was 6, during the magical summer of 1969. He is a Long Island-based writer, editor and communications consultant. Contact him here.

Jason Fry is a Brooklyn writer whose first memories include his mom leaping up and down cheering for Rusty Staub. Check out his other writing here.

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Homeward Bound

When David Wright and his employers announced his projected return to active duty, I did what I assume many Mets fans did: I checked StubHub. The cheapest tickets available for Saturday, September 29, were priced at about eight times what the cheapest tickets for every other game I’ve shopped in the second half of 2018. I decided my dream of No. 5 jogging out to third base — accompanied by No. 7 heading for shortstop — coming to fruition would have to be experienced via television. That’s OK. A lot of Mets fans share the same dream and Mets television, as is documented regularly, is pretty Amazin’. The important thing is it’s supposed to happen. David Wright is supposed to play third base in a few days. Play third base and bat. We and he got a good deal of advance notice because it’s an occasion. The last of its kind.

Mickey Callaway allowed several times in the runup to David’s actual activation Tuesday that the most accomplished position player the Mets ever developed and held on to throughout a long career would also be available to pinch-hit. Maybe once. Maybe twice. Made sense to give him at least one at-bat along the way, I figured. Given that he hasn’t faced a major league pitcher in a major league game in twenty-eight months, a reintroductory period seemed in order. A few pitches here, a few pitches there, let him get used to the feeling again. Plus, if he’s well enough to swing a bat, the bat could possibly find its way to the ball. David Wright recorded 1,777 base hits as a New York Met between 2004 and 2016. Muscle memory alone might generate a single into shallow left field.

Considering the entire 2018 Mets season has been a bucket of cold water, the first opportunity Callaway had to insert David into a game came and went with inaction. It wasn’t surprising. Before Tuesday’s game, co-co-co-GM John Ricco said the sanctity of the race for home field advantage, in which the opposition Braves are competing, would somehow be violated if an active player with 1,777 career base hits was allowed to bat. Instead, the dreary game the Mets played went on predictably sans Wright. Noah Syndergaard pitched very well for six innings while he was sick with some undefined malady (hands, feet and mouth not reported complicit) and then several members of the bullpen came along to undo his fine work. The Mets led, 3-0, through six, yet lost, 7-3. Oh, and it rained some. The story of Citi Field in its tenth season…the rainy season in more ways than one.

Seeing Wright be a ballplayer, even for an instant (provided he was feeling up for it), would have been a treat for the hundreds in attendance as well as the dead-enders like myself viewing from home. It’s not a crime against baseball that it didn’t happen — it’s understood that this whole thing is a weird situation — but looking forward to David Wright makes a Mets fan look forward to David Wright.

I got to thinking about when seeing David Wright play for the Mets was no big whoop. The whoop was large on July 22, 2004, the first time I saw him in person. It was his second game. He got the first of those 1,777 hits, a double off Zach Day of the Montreal Expos. You remember the Expos? Our most recently activated Met played against them. We have two guys who did so, counting Reyes. Next to having Bartolo Colon, the last extant ex-Expo, on your roster, that’s a pretty good Montreal memorial for 2018.

The great part about seeing young David Wright that midsummer midweek afternoon was knowing this was the beginning of something. We had waited for David to come up through the first half of ’04, and then, at last, he appeared. Now we knew he would keep appearing, keep being penciled in by Art Howe (one thing Howe could manage without self-inflicted controversy). We had our third baseman of the future in the present.

The present went on and on like that, No. 5, the third baseman, David Wright. Crowds surged and ebbed. Other Mets came and went. David Wright stayed and stayed, played and played. You came to see David Wright like you came to see the blue walls and the red Apple and the green, green grass of Shea. They were all part of the attraction if not something that necessarily grabbed your attention after a while. He was more than “just there,” but he also wasn’t going anywhere.

A dive into The Log, the steno notebook I began keeping fairly early in my Sheagoing experience so I’d always be able to accurately identify which games I attended, supplemented by Baseball-Reference’s handy guide to daily defensive lineups, has confirmed a hunch for me. When I went to Shea from July 22, 2004, until September 28, 2008, after which I could go to Shea no more (happy melancholy tenth anniversary, by the way), I pretty much couldn’t look at third base in the top of an inning without seeing David Wright. The Log tells me I was at 129 regular-season home games during this stretch. Baseball-Reference tells me David Wright started 125 of them at third base, including the first 48 when he and I were active at Shea at the same time.

There wasn’t a game that didn’t start with Wright at third and me at or hustling to my seat until September 24, 2006. The date checks out as logical. The Mets had clinched the National League East earlier that week. Skipper Willie Randolph was strategically resting his regulars, whether they wanted the pine or not. On that Sunday, grizzled veteran David, about three months shy of twenty-four years old, was directed to a seat in the dugout. Chris Woodward, a superutility supernova in the mid-2000s Met narrative, got the start instead. The Mets lost to the Nationals, many of whom had recently been Expos.

On a sunny afternoon the following May, Randolph dared give his three standout stalwarts a simultaneous breather. No Wright, Reyes or Beltran for those of us who showed up at Shea. Reyes had aggravated a hammy the night before. The other stars, Willie decided, simply needed a blow. Then, in the ninth, with the visiting Cubs up by four, the Mets needed a couple of blows, so the two of them pinch-hit. Carlos walked. David singled. The Mets scored five and won. It remains intensely memorable to me for how it ended, and maybe a touch for who didn’t start.

A couple of weeks later, Wright experienced pregame back spasms. Foreshadowing? It didn’t seem like anything alarming on June 1, 2007. Julio Franco, speaking of grizzled, trotted out to third base. The Mets lost to the Diamondbacks. On September 9 of that season, just as the Mets were preparing to pull away from the Phillies and salt away a second consecutive division title, Randolph insisted on resting Wright one more time during the stretch run. It wasn’t the storyline of the day in the stands. Pedro Martinez was. Pedro was making his first home start of the season, having just come off the disabled list in Cincinnati to fortify the rotation ahead of the postseason. Pedro gripped us all in his palm as he defeated the Astros, then a member of the National League Central.

Wright would be in the lineup every day the rest of 2007, including all those days I’d be on hand for. Best laid plans went awry that September, but not the ones that included No. 5 at third base, doing his best to ward off bad vibes. He didn’t yield a whit of starting time at third in 2008 during my 44 visits, either. Every day at Shea, right down to Shea Goodbye, was a day to say hello again to David Wright.

They opened a new ballpark in 2009. The walls weren’t blue. The original red Apple was stashed in a dark corner. Yet the grass was still green and the third baseman was still all Wright virtually all the time. I went to 36 games during Citi Field’s inaugural season. Wright started 33 of them. The outliers were Matt Cain’s fault, a fastball of his that got too up and too in and relegated the third baseman to the DL for the first time in our lives. David wasn’t quite the same batter when he came back, but he came back ASAP. And he stayed put in 2010, business more or less usual. I went to 27 games at Citi Field that second year. One time Mike Hessman started at third. Twenty-six other times, including Closing Day, David’s domain remained sacrosanct. Jerry Manuel was managing by then, calling the shots of his last game on October 3. In the midst of a tie, in a late inning, Jerry made a show of removing Wright from third and Reyes from short. We stood to applaud then sat to endure. The game went into extras, with Hessman in relief of Wright and Joaquin Arias taking over at second so Ruben Tejada could shift to shortstop. Eventually we had a fourteenth inning, an unlikely Oliver Perez sighting and a final loss for Ollie & Jerry and us to take home for winter.

The first eight games I attended in 2011 were unremarkable in the third base sense. David Wright started there. He always had, he always would. Remarkable player, remarkable consistency, but nobody and nothing you didn’t expect to see. No. 5, exactly where you were conditioned to look for him in his eighth season. Through May 8, 2011, in the previous 200 regular-season Mets home games I saw, David Wright had started 192 of them. Two stadiums, one third baseman.

Then, on May 28, 2011, I went to a game when something wasn’t Wright. It was third base, as ascertained from a seat down the line left field. I clearly remember peering straight ahead at the Met going into a defensive crouch. He was wearing No. 2. No. 2, I decided there and then, was a strange number for a baseball player to wear. Marv Throneberry. Jim Fregosi. Wayne Housie. It was fine for Bobby Valentine to manage in, but what were we doing with a No. 2 at third?

The third baseman of the moment was Justin Turner. He wasn’t exactly new. He’d been tearing it up for a spell at second base. He could play there while Daniel Murphy played first, a necessity because Ike Davis, the first baseman of the future, had a mysterious run-in with an infield fly in Colorado. But once David felt something in his back that May, more than a spasm, he was DL-bound again and a void developed at third. On the team whose birth pangs delivered us Don Zimmer and eight immediate 1962 successors, no such thing had materialized in forever, yet this was the new reality of 2011. Of course No. 2 looked strange. Any number that wasn’t No. 5 would have at third base.

May 28’s was the first of ten consecutive games I attended in 2011 when David Wright didn’t start at third base. It took some getting used to. Then it got shaken off, because he was whole again, starting at third at Citi Field through August and September. I went to eleven games; he started ten of them. Normality reigned in 2012: twenty-eight games I went to, twenty-eight games Wright started at third. The first twenty I hit in 2013 as well, until early August. A hamstring issue arose. Wright was gone from my sight until the final game of the year, the Captain returning to his station as the Mets inducted Mike Piazza into their Hall of Fame. David had played with Mike. By 2013, it was bracing to realize how far David’s career reached in the backward direction. Piazza. Franco. Leiter. Zeile. They were all 2004 Mets alongside Wright, a 2013 Met by now alone in his engagement with franchise history. The 2000 Mets had one final connection through which they could touch the present: No. 5, the third baseman.

It would have been bracing to realize how little David’s career would lunge forward. David had been signed in 2012 to remain a Met through 2020. A dicey proposition in theory, but c’mon. David Wright wasn’t all that old and he was definitely all that Met. Games weren’t so different to go at first in 2014. Wright was at third base for the first eighteen I saw. August, however, would lay him low again. He’d peek his sore neck and shoulder into the lineup a couple more times between inactive stints, but proved mostly done in another year that was mostly done from its beginning.

Finally, 2015, the year the Mets began to look like something different. A 2-3 launch on the road, but a homestand taking on a life of its own directly thereafter. David started at third on the home version of Opening Day. I wasn’t there. I was there the next night, though. So was David…until the ever present third baseman had to exit the game of April 14, 2015, having done something unfortunate to a hamstring while stealing second base. Terry Collins was out of legitimate third base substitutes, so catcher Anthony Recker replaced him for the rest of the game. Recker became the 154th third baseman in Mets history, as asterisky as he could be. Songs had been written to celebrate the revolving door of Mets third basemen during their first quarter-century. Wright, the 129th in the line of Zimmerian succession, stuck his foot in the door early in the franchise’s fifth decade. Enough, he said. You’d get the odd Woodward or Turner or Hessman passing through now and then, but it barely meaningfully nudged from 2004 until 2015.

Twenty Fifteen changed our perception of third base forever more. The hamstring absence revealed something more insidious, a spinal condition that had entered David’s anatomy in 2011, when he first missed a significant chunk of time. Stenosis it was called. You didn’t say you wanted a revolution, but revolve the door would. The third baseman you saw at Citi Field if you attended games as 2015 wore on depended on the day of the week. I saw Eric Campbell. I saw Daniel Murphy. I saw Ruben Tejada. I seem to have missed Danny Muno, but he was around. Juan Uribe, too. Him I saw. For old times’ sake, on September 15 and October 4, I saw David Wright start. Suddenly, provided the Captain didn’t push himself irresponsibly, he could be our third baseman again. He’d be our third baseman in the postseason. Yes, that was back, too, for the first time since 2006. I attended my and Citi Field’s first World Series game on October 30, 2015. I and everybody else there saw David Wright hit his and the ballpark’s first World Series home run. It was beautiful.

It couldn’t last. It didn’t. We lost the World Series. We kept David Wright. He was ours on a very long-term contract. He couldn’t imagine leaving us and we would have had to have gone on the disabled list with a conniption fit had he been permitted to depart. In 2016, David was the Opening Day third baseman, Away and Home, as he’d been every Opening Day since 2005. Collins said he’d handle Wright’s body with kid gloves. Stenosis demanded it. Wright seemed to play whenever I showed up anyway. Other than a day game after a night game when Wilmer Flores got the start, David and I were together at Citi Field like always as defense of our National League pennant got rolling.

I went to the Saturday afternoon affair of May 21, 2016, Mets versus Brewers. Nothing unusual there. As can be inferred, I’ve gone to a lot of Mets games. David Wright started at third base. It wasn’t as automatic a fact of life as it had been when Shea was closing and Citi was opening, but there he was. It was my seventh game of the season, my sixth time seeing David. That was a 2006-level rate, except David was deep into his thirties and some lesser third baseman spelling him was no longer a novelty. Still, he was in the lineup on May 21 and, come the ninth inning, he’d get the game-winning hit. It was cause for high-fives and hugs but not that unusual. David was always good for a game-winning hit.

I had to leave the game early that Saturday — a whole other story — so I didn’t see David drive in Eric Campbell with the winning run in the bottom of the ninth. I experienced my own raft of high-fives and hugs when he came through, because I was in the company of Mets fans somewhere west of Citi Field. It wasn’t the same as being there to take it in live, but I didn’t think much of it. I’d seen so much David Wright in my life. What was one more game?

Haven’t seen him play third at Citi Field since. I was on my way to the ballpark a week later when I learned via Twitter that he’d been scratched. Oh well, next time, I figured. As you’ve no doubt calculated, there was no next time. There was only the disabled list and a trickling of dispiriting bulletins that 2016 was over where David Wright was concerned. At third there was Campbell or Flores or Ty Kelly or Kelly Johnson or T.J. Rivera or, as if out of a twilight sleep, Jose Reyes. Wrightlessly we hung in there and made it to the playoffs. One of game of them, to be precise.

David would be back in 2017. That was the word. He played in Spring Training. Surely we’d see him at third base on Opening Day. Third base on Opening Day was where we knew we could find No. 5. Alas, he never got past the first base foul line, another non-playing member of the home team, getting introduced in the company of assistant trainers, clubhouse staff and fungible relievers before disappearing into the netherworld of rehab. Wright received a warmer ovation than Fernando Salas and Josh Smoker, but nothing that shook Flushing to its foundation. The Captain would be back soon, we assumed.

Assume nothing. I went to seventeen games at Citi Field in 2017. The Mets won ten of them. David Wright played in none of them. None away from home, either. There were a few late-summer stabs at third base in Port St. Lucie. All they told the Captain was he wasn’t ready to reboard his ship. Come 2018, the wayward vessel sailed on without him. A new full-time third baseman, Todd Frazier, was signed. He wasn’t a stopgap. He was present-day reality, the 167th third baseman in Mets history, a tally that reached 171 in August with the emergence of Jack Reinheimer. We’ve had McNeil, Bautista and Guillorme make debuts there this year as well. And Evans, d’Arnaud, Walker and Cabrera last year. Mostly Frazier this year, though. The Mets needed a third baseman for the season ahead because, we had to face it, the face of the franchise…the face of baseball, per the results of a silly Twitter exercise…wasn’t going to be showing his face anytime soon at third base for us.

Now he will. For a night at the end of September. Maybe for a cameo at the plate if the Riccos and Callaways can align their strategies with David’s spine. Give him a chance to get loose. Maybe give him a chance to swing tonight. I’ll be there tonight. I don’t really expect to see David play. The grass may still be green, the red Apple from Shea may be more prominently placed, the walls may have been returned to blue, but times have irreversibly changed.

4 comments to Homeward Bound

  • Ken K. in NJ

    I love these walks down memory lane focused on a single aspect of Mets history. 100th game of the year, games won by a score of 8 to 6, September 1st standings, David Wright and Greg Prince in the same building at the same time. Wonderful and fun to read.

    But…the emergence of Jack Reinheimer?? OK, if that’s the word you chose to use, fine. I hope to see him submerged back wherever it was he came from in time for Spring Training 2019.

  • Joe

    Anyone else going to tonight’s game?

  • Andy

    “Recker became the 154th third baseman in Mets history, as ass-terisky as he could be.”

    Fixed that for you.

  • Orange and blue through and through

    And so it is that our Captain is leaving the deck. Not by choice or decision,but by something much worse…circumstance. David Wright’s brave, valiant fight is now over. He leaves us with memories of what not only a baseball player should be, but a human being as well. His All-star game appearances, his myriad of wonderful memories, and the fact that at heart, David Wright is our guy, a Met, through and through. I wanted his last game to have some dramatic hit; a moment to forever seal his heroism, not so much for Wright, but for the rest of us.

    I’ve had other Mets heroes in the past; favorite players that piqued my curiosity. But it goes without saying that David Wright stands alone in the pantheon of Mets legends; he easily takes his space beside Tom Seaver and Mike Piazza on the Mets Mount Rushmore.