Meet David Wright, the Real Mr. Met
As the Mets squandered a seven-game division lead in September, third baseman David Wright, 25, batted .397 and never ducked questions.
When Brian Schneider was traded to the Mets from the Washington Nationals in November, his first phone call came from the Nationals’ general manager, Jim Bowden. Then he heard from Omar Minaya, the Mets’ general manager. Almost immediately after he hung up with Minaya, his cellphone buzzed again. It was a text message from one of his new teammates. “It’s D-Wright,” the message began.
David Wright was devastated by the Mets’ collapse in 2007. He said he used it as motivation “to get bigger, stronger and quicker.”
“It was like right away,” Schneider said in a telephone interview. “I’m barely on the team and he’s already reaching out. Shows what kind of guy he is.”
As he did after Paul Lo Duca and Doug Mientkiewicz, among others, joined the Mets, David Wright, the team’s All-Star third baseman, wanted to be the first to welcome Schneider and to let him know that if he had any questions, any at all, to call him. Wright also called Ryan Church, who was traded with Schneider, and attended Johan Santana’s introductory news conference Wednesday, having rearranged his schedule to do so.
“No matter how many years of experience you have in baseball, it’s a different experience playing in New York,” Wright said Thursday afternoon. “Although I’m young, I know what to expect. I know what it’s like. I feel extremely comfortable. I’ve lived here for four years now, and I know a few ins and outs that come along with playing baseball in New York. Am I a salty veteran? Absolutely not. But I do have a little bit of knowledge of what to expect over 162 games.”
At age 25 and preparing to enter his fourth full season in the major leagues, Wright is in a unique position. Already admired by his peers for his professionalism and accountability, Wright, for the first time in his brief career, will be expected to assume part of a leadership void created when Lo Duca and Tom Glavine were not re-signed.
Along with Moises Alou, Wright enhanced his image during last season’s collapse by batting .397 during the final 17 games, when the Mets lost a seven-game division lead to Philadelphia, hitting safely in every one, and by standing in front of his locker after every one of those painful losses, taking responsibility for the team’s struggles.
Wright is scheduled to arrive in Port St. Lucie, Fla., on Sunday evening and to resume workouts Monday morning, a full week before position players are required to report. And by coincidence more than design, Wright, one of the few players who spends most of his off-season in New York, served as an unofficial team spokesman this winter, listening to fans’ gripes and assuring them that the outcome bothered him 100 times more.
But although many fans may prefer that Wright be selected team captain, he is still one of the junior members in a clubhouse dominated by Hispanic players and more accomplished veterans ranging from Carlos Delgado to Billy Wagner, Pedro Martínez to Alou. Finding his place within that mosaic is a challenge, but Wright, having clearly grasped the complexities of playing — and succeeding — in New York, is eager to lead by example.
“In my eyes, there’s a difference between trying to force myself into a leadership role and taking accountability,” Wright said. “I wasn’t up there during the rough times last year answering questions because I wanted to be considered a leader. I was up there because I’m as accountable as the 25th guy on the roster as to why we didn’t get the job done. We’re all in this together. We win as a team, we lose as a team.
“As an everyday player, I really felt responsible for being part of the collapse. I didn’t ask to have the cameras in my face and I didn’t force myself onto the stage as the overnight spokesman for the team. I did it because I felt accountable.”
Like the rest of his teammates, Wright was devastated by missing the playoffs. Outwardly, he took it harder than most. He is haunted by the fact that he will be forever connected with a team that fell so hard, so fast, despite distinguishing himself with his stellar individual play.
Wright said he had spoken to Manager Willie Randolph “a hundred times” this winter, and inevitably the subject of the collapse came up. Randolph, he said, told him that their mind-set in spring training should be to take five months’ worth of frustration out on their opponents. During the off-season, Wright all but eliminated trips for endorsement and promotional opportunities so he could concentrate on his workouts. When he was not in New York, he was at home in Virginia.
“I’m at a point in my life where, besides my family, I can’t think of anything more important to me than baseball,” Wright said. “I thought about what happened last year all the time, but I used it as a driving force to get bigger, stronger and quicker. I focused 100 percent on getting ready physically because I don’t want to feel what I felt watching the playoffs from home.”
During the season’s final month, Randolph remarked how pleased he was that Wright had asserted himself as more of a clubhouse presence. It has taken awhile, Wright said, to reach that point.
He recalled being surrounded by veterans like Todd Zeile, Al Leiter and Glavine, and wondering whether he was acting appropriately. He recalled being awestruck during spring training in 2004, when the only major leaguer he was close with was Joe McEwing. One of his earliest and more vivid memories as a professional came one morning during spring training about five years ago, when he was still in the minor leagues, and he saw Mike Piazza on a back field practicing his throwing technique.
“That rubbed off,” Wright said. “I’ve tried to emulate Glavine’s professionalism and the way he carries himself. John Franco’s leadership, the way he could get everyone on the same page. The one thing that all these guys had in common was that they had the ability to bring together people from different backgrounds and languages.”
As the season evolves, Wright will almost certainly assume more responsibility. Just do not expect him to challenge his teammates — at least not publicly — or to trash a clubhouse to prove a point.
“The biggest common denominator among guys who I’ve played with who I respect is that they do everything correctly,” Schneider said. “It takes a little something special, and not everyone can handle that role. David goes about his business and doesn’t let things go astray. That’s the biggest part about being a team leader.”
Randolph said during spring training last year that he did not see a rush to name a captain. The Mets have had only three since their inception in 1962 — Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter and Franco — and none during Randolph’s tenure. There would seem to be no reason to believe Randolph will select one this season. But Wright, who is under contract through at least 2012, may eventually be that man.
“If my teammates, coaches and the front office view me that way, that’s more of an honor than any title,” Wright said. “Guys on the team look to me as one of the leaders. I feel comfortable in the clubhouse speaking my mind. For me, that’s all that I need.”