Several hours before Mets captain David Wright took his final at-bat as a big leaguer, thousands of well-wishers gathered outside Citi Field to prepare for what would be a memorable sendoff for their beloved third baseman. From a father and daughter having a catch on the pavement just beyond the old home run apple to veteran security guards swapping personal tales about No. 5 in front of the Jackie Robinson Rotunda, Wright’s impact on each of their lives was on full display on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Queens.
As throngs of folks lucky enough to land tickets formed long lines that snaked from the ballpark’s main entrance all the way to Roosevelt Avenue and the stairs to the 7 train, a family of five milled about near the third base marker from Shea Stadium, their young son beaming from ear to ear, exclaiming, “I can say I stood on the same third base as David Wright!”
Others in the parking lot were similarly appreciative, but also melancholy about their favorite Met’s impending swan song. By the close of the on-field theatrics later that night, both Wright and many in the stands had shed their share of tears. The waterworks began much sooner for some tailgating supporters, however.
Donning a standard-issue David Wright home jersey and struggling to contain her sadness about the finality of the moment, Anna Connelly’s dark sunglasses couldn’t mask the wave of emotion hidden behind their lenses.
“I’m hoping I’m not going to cry,” said the Dumont, New Jersey resident, a proud member of the Flushing faithful since 1973. “His teammates love him and he tried so hard. It’s such a shame that he has to go out like this but I’m so glad to be at this game.”
“He’s just classy. You don’t hear anything bad about him, and for his daughters to be able to see him play is something amazing,” a choked-up Connelly added. “That he could make this comeback, and the work that he has to take just to be able to play a game. Hours to get ready, I can’t believe it and I can’t believe I’m here. I just can’t.”
Kyle Brancato, 25, reflected on Wright’s debut and how he rooted for the always-smiling Virginia kid from day one.
“He means the world to me. I remember distinctly listening to his first game on the radio when they were playing the Expos and there was something about him,” Brancato said, wearing an orange T-shirt with the word ‘Captain’ emblazoned across the chest. “Announcers were talking about him and talking about his experiences in the minors coming up, and over the years I feel like whether they were winning or losing he was just always the first one doing an interview, talking about how much he loved being a Met, and obviously on the field he was going to be a Hall of Famer. It didn’t work out but he’s always going to be Hall of Famer in my eyes, for sure. He was that good.”
Brancato’s pal, Michael Bonello, saw the night as a kind of closing time for his younger years.
“It’s going to be an end of an era,” Bonello said about Wright and Jose Reyes taking the field together for the last time. “A bit of my childhood leaves today along with them.”
Long Island native and lifelong Mets fan Tim Massa spoke passionately about Wright, comparing him to another New York baseball idol.
“Wright has a special place for me based on his pride to wear the orange and blue. He loved being a Met,” said the 57-year-old Massa. “Wright wanted to be a Met and never wanted to be anything but a Met and you’ve got to respect that. He’s the closest we have to our Derek Jeter.”
Massa added: “I’m a grown man but I’m going to cry. I know it. It’s going to happen. Listen, baseball is threaded into your body. You’ve got to be a special guy to be a Met fan because they put you through hell, but that’s what it is to be a Met fan and having a David Wright day, it can’t be better than this.”
Massa’s son, T.J., a fan since the late ’90s, has tried to follow Wright’s lead off the field as well.
“David Wright came up when I was just like in the sixth or seventh grade and I was immediately drawn to him in the way he carried himself and he was such a great ballplayer and he was such a leader,” the younger Massa said. “I always kind of wanted to be like that myself in my life. I just always looked up to David, one of my favorites of all time.”
Eventually, they all huddled inside the park to watch a game that they’ll never forget, and as Saturday night turned into early Sunday, a flock of weary scribes hung around in front of Wright’s locker in a mostly empty Mets clubhouse. Several cracked jokes with the always affable third baseman, the class that Connelly alluded to still on display despite a physically and emotionally draining couple of days. With family and friends waiting patiently in the hallway to continue the celebration, Wright had a few kind words and a handshake for every one of us individually. No big surprise, though. Since 2004, that was David Wright. I imagine that it always will be.
Photo credit: Scott Orgera; pictured: Kyle Brancato (left) and Michael Bonello (right)