The Wright Farewell

Growing up in Virginia with ready access to the Tidewater Tides, the Mets' Triple-A farm at the time, David Wright had only one baseball ambition. He wanted to play for the Mets. For life, if he could help it. Some might have suggested to his parents that their boy needed psychiatric attention. But now he leaves the game the way he entered, as a Met for his entire career.

If only he could have left the game the way it looked like he was going to once upon a time. His spirit was more than willing. His body continued responding with language unsuitable for family publications, ever since his smattering of previous injuries proved small compared to the spinal stenosis that felled him in 2016.

Wright was the face of the Mets who bridged between two eras of club greatness. He was one of the hapless who had to watch Carlos Beltran look at Adam Wainwright's bender for the third strike that ended the 2006 National League Championship Series, then bear the slings and arrows of back-to-back division race collapses, none of which were his fault, followed by lean, mean rebuilding for a brief return to greatness in 2015.

The problem is that his troubles began in 2014, when he suffered a contusion in his left rotator cuff that disrupted his hitting and glove work alike. It was a nasty finish to a season that began when he was voted the face of Major League Baseball in an online contest. Then, in early 2015: a right hamstring strain incurred while stealing second, followed almost immediately by a diagnosis of spinal stenosis. The following season: a herniated neck disc in June, season over. In 2017: a right shoulder impingement during spring training, season over even before he turned up with a rotator cuff issue in his right shoulder that August.

The shoulder and back issues persisted as Wright tried gamely, but ultimate in vain to return from them this year. His eventual bid at rehab games in the minors turned up short enough for comfort. The fourth captain in Mets history (following Keith Hernandez, Hall of Famer Gary Carter, and John Franco) is done. We were probably lucky to see him do some damage in the 2015 World Series, in Game 3.

In the same game in which Noah Syndergaard stunned the world as he started the game by dropping plate-crowding Royal Alcides Escobar onto his seat, the only win a Series the Mets actually could have won, Wright batted with Curtis Granderson aboard leading off the bottom of the first and drove Yordano Ventura's 0-1 service seven rows up the left field seats. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, he fisted Kelvim Herrera's first pitch to him over the middle of the infield for a 2-run single.

Wright didn't have to be taught to say hello long before it was time to say goodbye. From the moment he became a Met, he was the team's most accommodating, genial, and stand-up of souls. Even opponents on the field and in the stands believed he was the classiest Met. He played the game joyously and to a level that suggested the Hall of Fame in his future until his body suggested where he could shove that idea. And on a team who so often needed it, Wright was a constant respite from disappointment and controversy.

From the neck up, Wright still looks like he could go out and play nine above average innings at third base and swing an above-average bat four times a game. Inside his body there's a 50-year-old spine in a 35-year-old man that finally told him all the game rehabilitation and work to come back wasn't going to do him any good if he wanted to live like a normal person after baseball. Think of it this way: essentially, spinal stenosis is to a human being what a knot or a kink is to a garden hose. Who knows how long Wright's spine began compromising him at the plate or in the field before he was actually diagnosed?

But he managed to make it to one final turn on the Mets' roster last week and weekend. He got to play a couple of more games. He got his fondest wish, that his two young children could see Daddy play baseball even once, even to the point of his little daughter bouncing him a ceremonial first pitch Saturday.

It didn't matter that Wright could no longer do the things he once did, in a meaningless game, against a Marlins team even further out of it than the Mets, other than handling a routine one-hopper at third base. It mattered that the Mets allowed him to say goodbye on his terms, in uniform, and without the grotesqueries of those ostentatious farewell tours such as we've seen around Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Chipper Jones, and David Ortiz. History will record he was the greatest third baseman in the history of the Mets before his body began its breakdown. It will also record that he said farewell with the same class by which he said hello, and that Mets fans said it to him the same way Sunday.

The Mets themselves said it the way he might have preferred, too. They beat the Marlins in 13 innings, 1-0, when Austin Jackson doubled Michael Conforto home. Wright had one RBI opportunity in the bottom of the first, but he fouled one off before wringing a walk and then was erased on a double play.

At the early September press conference during which he announced that now the end war near, Wright had to choke back tears. On Saturday, he hoped aloud that he was all out of tears.

"This is love ... You had my back from Day One," Wright told the crowd. "We've had some pretty good times here, we've had some rough years, but you guys have always had my back.

Wright took final embraces from teammates and coaches before descending into the clubhouse. Where he wept once more, out of the fans' sight, and probably more out of gratitude than an ending.

He'd gotten what he wanted as a boy, to be a Met for life. Few enough of us get to make our childhood dreams come true. It was only a shame that the baseball life of this class act had to be compromised too severely by the body that proved his own traitor.

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