Despite crosstown rivalries, this New York Yankees fan will miss David Wright in the orange and blue for the New York Mets.
I am not a New York Mets fan.
Granted, as I chronicled in another piece, I have ties to Mets fandom through my mother’s side of the family. They all live out on Long Island, just a short drive away from Citi Field and where Shea Stadium once stood. Their greatest sports loves are the Mets and the New York Giants. My aunt, Sharon, once cut her finger while preparing dinner, and I could have sworn she bled deep blue.
OK, fine, that never happened, but you get the idea. Though I myself became a New York Yankees fan thanks to my first game being Jim Abbott’s no-hitter, the Mets have always been in my life. Be it from friends, family, or living in New York City, I’ve always had a front row seat to passionate Mets fandom.
Which is why I was genuinely saddened to hear last weekend’s games would be former star third baseman David Wright’s last. I never seriously rooted for his team but even I, a typical New York loudmouth who bleeds pinstripes, understood how special a player he was.
David Wright was Queens’ answer to Derek Jeter, just someone with infectious class and grace. Even if he was beating up on your team, his baby-faced smile and charm kept you from being mad at him.
Which is why I, despite my fandom, am going to miss David Wright. A lot.
A third baseman beloved
David Wright debuted for the Mets on July 21, 2004, just over a month after I graduated from high school. However, it wasn’t until 2006 that I understood just how great he was as a player.
The summer of 2006 was an interesting one for me. I had been through a rough breakup the previous fall and winter, so I saw the summer as a full reset. When I wasn’t toiling away at my summer job, doing admin work at a law firm, I jumped head first into baseball. If anyone from the Staten Island Yankees to the Long Island Ducks were in town and I could afford a ticket, I was going to the game.
Moreover, 2006 was an interesting season for New York baseball. While the Yankees were in their usual fight for the AL East with the Boston Red Sox, the Mets were practically running away with the NL East. Carlos Delgado was smacking the cover off of the baseball. Jose Reyes was on his way to 64 stolen bases. Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine was still twirling it at age 40.
The whole team was responding well to manager Willie Randolph, especially Wright. Be it in the field or at the plate, he was playing great baseball.
And on a hot summer night on July 6, 2006, I saw I had a free evening and the Mets were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates. I called a friend I knew loved the Mets, asked him if he wanted to meet me at Shea, and he gladly accepted. We bought two nosebleed seats and ventured inside.
Baseball poetry in motion
The Mets won the game 7-5 and 23-year-old David Wright was a big reason why. He was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs that night and also hit his 19th home run of the season. I also remember him bare-handing a slow roller and making a great throw to first.
And even though I didn’t have a horse in that night’s race, the vibe at Shea Stadium was different. All the other times I had been to a Mets game, the team was not contending for the postseason. They were just playing each game as if it was another one. There was still passion, mind you, but the crowd appeared to just be watching the action casually.
That was not the case this time around. The fans were hungry. They smelled a contender. They knew this team was capable of winning it all, and they showed it in their ravenous support of their star third baseman. Wright hit a double to center field in his first at-bat that night and the MVP chants were deafening. After he slugged a two-run shot in the fifth inning, the crowd seemed louder than the overhead traffic from nearby LaGuardia Airport.
David Wright was not just the Mets’ star third baseman this night, he was a New York institution. The Big Apple was his oyster. Depending on how the season played out, he would never have to pay for drinks in New York ever again.
So much for the happy ending
David Wright hit .311 in 2006 with 26 home runs, 116 RBI, and 20 stolen bases. The Mets won the division, but he only finished ninth in NL MVP voting. The trophy went to Ryan Howard, the first baseman who hit 58 home runs that year for the hated Philadelphia Phillies. I was not a Mets fan but was bummed he lost.
Even more disappointing was the Mets’ postseason finish. They got to Game 7 of the NLCS against the St. Louis Cardinals, but the baseball gods frowned on Flushing. Aaron Heilman faced Cardinals star catcher Yadier Molina with a runner on in the top of the ninth. Molina hit a deep drive to left field. Endy Chavez, whose leaping catch robbed Scott Rolen of a homer back in the sixth, could not make the catch.
St. Louis won the game and then the World Series, and the Mets’ next two seasons would be defined by late-season collapses that kept them out of the playoffs. Wright still played well but in 2011, injuries began derailing his career.
The Mets would win the NL Pennant and make the World Series in 2015, but Wright watched most of that season from the sidelines. Injuries limited him to 38 games, though he did make it back in time for the playoffs. He would bat just .154 in the postseason, albeit with a home run and seven RBI, but the Mets would lose to the Kansas City Royals in five games.
An undeserving end
Wright would only appear in 39 more games following the 2015 World Series. Between spinal stenosis, plus neck and shoulder injuries, his body just gave out. It’s really a shame because he was easily on a Jeter-esque level when it came to love from the fans.
I didn’t watch Wright’s last game, but I caught the moment that mattered. I was walking through Chelsea Market last Saturday night, where MLB Advanced Media’s office is. I saw the Mets game on a nearby television. As I walked towards the exit, I caught Wright leaving the field and tipping his cap to the crowd.
Emotions flooded my heart. This was like when I watched Derek Jeter take his final bow in 2014, except the Mets equivalent. David Wright handled his career’s untimely end with grace and dignity, just as he conducted himself his entire career. As he tipped his cap to the roaring crowd at Citi Field, I offered a small and subtle salute before leaving.
I never once cheered for David Wright’s team. In fact, I probably booed him more than I cheered. But not last weekend. I’m as big a Yankees fan as they come, and David Wright deserved to go out on a higher note. Had he not been injured, who knows what could have happened?
Wright was the hero Mets fans both needed and deserved. He provided them with some excellent memories, even if he did miss out on that World Series ring. Disappointing as that is, it’s going to be a long time before the team has a player like him again. Those memories should be cherished dearly.
Happy retirement, David Wright. You deserve it and even in the Bronx, we’ll miss you.