“There were some days that it was too painful to think about baseball.”
Those were the words of a tearful David Wright during an emotional Thursday afternoon press conference at Citi Field as the Mets’ homegrown star announced that his next start will be his last. And as I’ve sat here staring into the depths of my computer screen, trying to properly assemble my thoughts for so long that it’s all become a pixelated blur, those words continue to strike me.
In a game that has become so driven by the statistics, this story goes beyond numbers. This is about a man coming to the realization that it’s all over, and having to admit that to a fanbase where he remains a beloved figure. This, of course, only came after he had to admit that fact to himself.
And now, Mets fans, as a collective group, are left to cope with this news in their own way. We’ve seen great players depart from this organization in one way or another over the years, but never before has it felt anything like this. Come up with the name of any other players you’d like; Wright was different. Since being drafted by the team in 2001, Wright never wore another uniform. He became the team’s all-time leader in at-bats, hits, doubles, runs batted in, walks and runs scored. He was the team captain, even before it became official. And maybe most importantly, he was an incredible ambassador for the game of baseball, and one of the few true role models left in sports.
When Wright’s press conference was first scheduled, I didn’t think much of it other than that the team would announce that after two years of grueling surgeries and rehab, their captain would be making his return to the major league diamond. Once the presser began, however, it quickly became apparent that this wasn’t about a return at all; it was about an ending.
“Physically, the way I feel right now and everything the doctors have told me, there’s not going to be any improvement,” Wright said, attempting to hold back the tears, as he discussed the injuries to his neck, shoulder and back. “Those three combined, it’s debilitating to play baseball.”
As he sat alongside interim general manager John Ricco and owner Jeff Wilpon, the Mets announced that Wright would be activated during the final week of the regular season, where he would get one last start before walking off of the field for good.
And just like that, in what felt like an instant, it was as if whatever was left of my childhood had evaporated into thin air.
David Wright was the first favorite player I ever had — in any sport. I didn’t start watching baseball until I was 15, but from that first moment, Wright was always there. The Mets had a young, homegrown superstar manning third base every day, and I couldn’t get enough of it. And as the years went on and the team began to struggle and go through roster turnover after roster turnover, through multiple managers and GMs, there was still always one stalwart: David Wright.
And while the last two years have resulted in Wright coming to the realization that he could no longer physically play the game he loves, it is only now that I’ve come to a realization of my own: this will be the last time I ever write about him.
One of life’s greatest clichés is that people don’t know what they have until it’s gone. And the reason it’s a phrase so oft-repeated is because it’s also one of life’s greatest truths. The reality is that moments of pure joy and ecstasy never last as long as we hope they will, and we’d better appreciate them while we can because before you know it, they’re nothing more than just a memory.
I only met David Wright once in my life. I was shooting video for SNY as a 21-year-old at Citi Field, and Wright took time out of his pre-game schedule to chat with us about the future of the team. It was the only time in my professional career that I’ve been starstruck. In that moment, I couldn’t even muster up the words to say a simple “hi” or “nice to meet you,” and before I could blink the moment had passed me by. And that’s kind of how I’ve been feeling about this entire situation lately.
Despite it taking place over the course of 14 years rather than a brief five minutes, I don’t know if I ever took a moment to appreciate how special of a player (and person) that David Wright was. That this type of thing is rare, especially for the Mets who have never really had a homegrown star spend their entire careers in the orange and blue. At no point did I take stock into the fact that someday this would all be over, even as he missed the last two years due to injury. But here we are. Whether we like it or not, we’ve reached the end of the line.
I’m not sure anyone is ever truly ready to say goodbye to someone, but often times we never even get that chance. So in a way, despite it being too painful to think about baseball lately, I do think we, as Mets fans, are somewhat fortunate.
We get a chance to say goodbye to David Wright in our own way, and on his own terms. For a few brief moments over the next week, we will get to see an all-time franchise great close out his career in the only place deserving—the baseball field.
You only get one chance to say goodbye, so even if it’s for only three at-bats and even if it’s only for a few innings at third base, cherish these final moments while you can. Appreciate David Wright for what he is and for what he’s given to all of us while he’s still here.
Because once he’s gone, this will all be nothing more than just a memory.
Photo credit: Michael Baron