Why We Watch: David Wright, The Man Who Was The Mets

David Wright is still young, and has a lot of baseball left in him. His modest, goofy greatness already defines his team.
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On Tuesday night, somewhere around 8: 27 p.m., David Wright ran onto Citi Field to play third base for the home team. It was in a general sense familiar: Wright has done this 1,349 times, more than three full seasons beyond the nearest runner-up, Howard Johnson. I wrote all this before that happened, but I knew what would happen, because I've seen it, if not 1,349 times, then often enough to know how David Wright's All-Star Game entrance would go.

So: as he makes his way across the diamond, there will be a pep in Wright’s step. There almost always is. A decade of wearing the orange-and-blue—and-black-and-pinstripes-and-sometimes-green-and-some-other-random-piping—has had little outwardly detrimental effect on Wright’s default personal credence of genial enthusiastic affability. His youthful looks, the reddish cheeks of Ernie coupled with the dark bushy eyebrows of Bert, fitting in the home borough of Sesame Street, still give off a vibe that reads “boyish.” That only seems strange because of how long Wright has been with the Mets.

At 30, Wright’s obviously a young man by societal norms. But, by industry standards, he falls into the “not that young anymore” demographic. Even if the inevitable decline in his physical abilities can be staved off for a while, Wright feels borderline AARP by Mets years. His Mets debut at third base was in 2004, in a stadium that's now a parking lot, and a few weeks before Mayor Bloomberg went all real-life Bane on Gotham City, protecting the delicate delegates and their plastic Purple Heart bandages at the Republican National Convention from the not-that-militant masses in the cordoned-off “free speech” zones. Wright took the job from Ty Wigginton, who was then almost a prospect himself. To put Wright's permanence in baseball terms, his first major league game was against the Montreal Expos.

***

Being bedrock has its rewards, but the art-and-shock of the new isn’t one of them. That’s why, if sports books had taken ovation odds for the All-Star Game, Wright wouldn’t even be the favorite applause-recipient. Matt Harvey, always, was destined to be the Home Run Apple of the home fans’ eyes. And why not? Harvey is the now, a virile snarly bulldog who whips the egg at 100 mph. Sure, he’s only six years younger than his All-Star mate, but he’s the headline-grabber with the apartment in a moderately cool neighborhood and a rumored model girlfriend and all the buzzy rest. Wright is yesterday’s Daily News.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.  It's natural. Fresh faces grow long shadows as the buzz wears off. The good ones maintain a big presence into their career middle age, which usually kicks in right around (ahem) 30, and are able to play well enough that they become beloved, if almost always and inevitably overrated, veterans. The good and lucky ones get to do it with one or two teams; the roots grow thicker, and the history, by sheer nature of it being actual lived history, has more materiality than what's afforded to a stretch run rental or journeyman or ducat-chasing free agent. Castigating players for going after big mercenary dollars, or the chance to hold the World Series trophy aloft, is moronic and self-serving on its face, but it’s not mutually exclusive with saying players who spend ten years-and-up with the same team have a deeper organic identity with the franchise and its fans. It goes without saying, really, although it still gets said.

Wright's presence, and his palpable pride and happiness at being the All-Star host, was for me as good a reason to watch an All-Star Game as I've had in a while. It was not the only one, admittedly: I was a little tingly at the Harvey v. Cabrera v. Trout v. Ortiz showdowns. But my primary excitement is mostly for the Mets mainstay, who has earned this much, and more.

It's not that complicated, finally: Seeing David Wright bound out to third day-after-day makes me happy. And I selfishly hope it will always be for this cursed team. My daughter is two and a half years old. Currently, her favorite player is Mr. Met—just wait until she gets a load of the Missus—but it would be cool, if she’s into baseball, Mets baseball, when she reaches her cognizant able-to-sit-through-a-full-game-age, if David Wright is still manning the hot corner. This would allow Dad to spin the yarns on the longest-tenured player in team history. We'd watch his final years together, and when it’s all said and done, as he tips his cap and saunters off the field for the last time, I will turn to my daughter and say, “There goes David Wright, he’s the—”

Hold that thought.

***

The other day it dawned on me that I’ve watched David Wright play baseball more than anyone else in my 42 years, and that nobody will ever surpass him. He came along way before my kid, and at a time when Manhattan bars finally capitulated to the cable television age. Wright has 5,078 at-bats, and I’ve seen a decent number of them—I'd bet more than half, maybe upwards of 3,000. Those aren't Jason Fry/Greg Prince first-ballot fandom levels, but it's a solid career effort nonetheless for someone who isn't even from New York. It's a certainty I’ve spent way more time with Mr. Wright than any other athlete, a novelty considering baseball falls behind basketball and football in my personal sports pecking order.

The quirk of it is, in all the time I’ve spent with Captain America—a nickname I was unaware of (and remain dubious of) until this morning’s Google search—is that it coincides with my dwindling time spent with MLB on the whole. I am, at this point, pretty strictly a Mets fan, a designation I can live with because its meant more quality time with Captain Amer—nope, not buying it, don't know nothing of the World Baseball Thingee—David Wright. It's the consistency that draws me in, the fact he’s there every day, 162 times a season, year-in year-out, in climates, both weather and organization-related, that would make your average postman blanch. It has to be, because when I ran through the memory bank, only three specific Wright moments came to mind:

1.) The diving barehanded catch against Padres. Untouchable. (And it lead me to discover this fantastic thread. Wright’s grab got nothin’ on THE CAP-TAIN JEET-AH, which brought some of the old sincere Yankee hatred bubbling to the surface. Bless you, fellas.) 

2.) The bloop single that drove in Carlos Beltran for the first run, Game Seven 2006 NLCS, a vital hit that was later overshadowed by the best catch in Mets history, which was of course, sent to the archives three innings later by the ballsiest pitch of my lifetime. (It was and always will be about Adam Wainwright’s hook, not Carlos Beltran’s look.)

3.) The time he got drilled in the head by Matt Cain. (No jokey aside, here, that shit was frightening.)

I have more visions of Mike Piazza, Jose Reyes, even night-terror-y Oliver Perez moments in the recesses of my cortex. I know I'm shortchanging the man, but to me visualizing David Wright’s career is to see doubles to left center, diving stabs to his left, errant throws from his right, some strikeouts, numerous non-prodigious home runs, and his one signature move, rounding second or third with that goofy sprint of his where his tongue sticks out and his arms flap about like an ADHD penguin. 

It’s far from nothing, but it's not fair, either. Wright is a very-good-to-great hitter and a solid fielder, but he doesn’t take your breath away with the virtuosity of Miguel Cabrera or the pregnant promise of Manny Machado. Through little fault of his own, Wright also doesn’t have any of those career-defining, approaching-midnight late-inning October gappers. He was a kid in 2006, part of a Mets juggernaut that never was, and since then, bupkis for the postseason. He’s got a lifetime supply of 2-for-5 mid-August matinees against the Phillies already in the bank. In his era, that’s what it means to be a Met. But even if the struggles never cease, the effort never wanes, the smile rarely vanishes, and those damn lovable flipper limbs never stop flailing.

***

Wright’s been around long enough that his career can be put into context, at least as far as the Mets are concerned. He will never be the best player to don the team's uniform; that guy threw out the first pitch at the All-Star Game. Tom Seaver is an immortal, but the Mets generally don’t do immortality, or at least not as well as they do mortality. 

Sure, they rise from the dead every now and again, but they’ll always be Lazarus; Seaver walks on water. Considering how badly it ended with the Mets, how the “Midnight Massacre” shipped him out while he was still aces, and how great Seaver was in Cincinnati, I find “The Franchise” bigger than the franchise. Flushing can't hold him. Seaver is statue-worthy, Wright, will always be more of a bobblehead guy.

This isn’t to say Wright isn’t more than halfway to Cooperstown. His Baseball-Reference “Similarity Scores” include the names George Brett, Carl Yastrzemski, and Chipper—excuse me Larrrrr-eeeeeeee—Jones, all Hall of Famers now or in the near future. Wright already holds all kinds of significant Mets record, old-school and new, including: hits, runs scored, total bases, doubles, ribeye steaks (Keithism!), base on balls and strikeouts, extra-base hits, sacrifice flies, adjusted batting wins, win probability added, WAR for position players, and offensive WAR.

Every at-bat brings him closer to another record. All he needs to sit atop nearly every entry in the Mets record book is 358 plate appearances, 12 double-plays grounded into, two hit-by-pitches—please, not in the noggin—and the moonshot of them all, 36 more dingers. He could do all this by the end of next season, and Wright is signed through 2020.

He's probably not going to tack on 76 more triples to top old pal Jose Reyes, but from the day he retires all Mets records will be read from the book of Wright. Just a few years ago, he and Reyes were set to be the cornerstones for the 21st-century pennant-winning 7 Train Express. There were, homegrown, a speedy table-setter and a steady bat to bring him home, both charismatic and both definitively Mets. It was a glorious time, one so full of promise that it was easy to enjoy the brief period when Reyes usurped Wright as the number one guy and "Mouthbreather from Maspeth" called up Joe Benigno and spat out “We got to get rid of this bum Wright, he stinks, and try this Lastings Milledge kid at third.”

That seems a long time ago, but it wasn't, really. Joltin’ Jose has left and gone away, and nobody but lonely Mets fans turns their eyes to David Wright. It seems, in a way, as if this is how it should be.

***

Tuesday night was Harvey's night, and deservedly so, but what shouldn't be lost in the high heat is that Wright became the Mets leader in ASG appearances with seven. It would have been nice for the national audience to get one glimpse of Wright in all his Chilly Willy glory, coming round his hot corner and heading for the plate, but it was not to be. He had a flared single, got stranded at first. That's a bummer, but even that fits.

In the loudest city on the planet, Wright breezily goes about his business, eyes-wide and choppers-bared, as he continues to compile and contribute, putting a career’s worth of distance between him and anyone who wants to make a run at the team record-holder’s throne. If Wright finishes out his contract—which, because of the nature of big baseball business I fear will not be smart wager—2020 would be Wright’s 17th year with his team. That would be a perfect time to hang up the spikes, and a nice bit of synergy with the man who now sits in second place on the vast majority of Mets longevity milestones, Steady Eddie Kranepool.

As a fan of the man, I have two sincere-yet-somewhat-selfish hopes for David Wright: One, that he breaks the team record Kranepool still holds by a wide margin and plays in 504 more games to become the top dog in that category, too. The Krane was the face of the franchise for its first fifty years and a solid cat, but he's no Captain America. (What the hell, you know, maybe it works?) The Mets play in Citi Field now, the House of David. Let him own it.

My second simple desire is that he never wears another team’s colors and retires in the only uniform he’s ever known. And then when it’s all said and done, as he tips his cap and saunters off the field for the last time, I will turn to my daughter and say, and mean it: “There goes David Wright, he’s the Mets there’s ever been.”


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