Oct 01

Missing David Wright

WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

                                     WRIGHT: Says goodbye. (AP)

It was a special night for a special player and an even better person.

David Wright’s eyes welled up and his voice cracked as he tried to fight back tears as he addressed the Citi Field crowd there to honor him. It was a very human thing to do, which is why they filled the park one last time Saturday night to thank the man who was a better person then ballplayer, and was one of them.

”You had my back from day one,” Wright told the crowd who was there for the fireworks and cheer him because the Mets stopped playing meaningful baseball in May.

”You guys welcomed me, a 21-year-old kid from Virginia. You welcomed me as a New Yorker.”

Mets fans loved him and Wright loved them in return, and he did so by staying when others would have left, by always playing hard, by representing himself and his team with class and dignity, and by treating people with respect.

All the things fans want from their heroes Wright gave them, whether it was signing autographs, visiting children in hospitals, or posing for pictures. And, above all else, wanting to be a Met.

”I’ve always tried to picture myself in the stands or picture a kid watching me play for the first time in the stands, and tried to play the game the right way,” Wright said. ”I think that I’ve always treated the game that way. If there’s a kid in the stands that is looking for a player to try to emulate like I used to as a young kid, I wanted to be that player.”

Wright was never a ”look at me” player on the field, or a ”don’t bother me” personality off it. I spent a lot of time with Wright when I covered the Mets, and my best conversations with him weren’t always about baseball.

It was late in the summer of 2006 and the Mets had just clinched the NL East. His face was wet from sweat and champagne and he puffed on a cigar as he leaned against the rail in front of the Mets dugout. I remember asking him about the upcoming playoffs, and he said, ”I don’t know. I just want to enjoy this for now.”

We talked for a few more minutes before one of his teammates walked up and sprayed more champagne. The next year, the Mets blew a seven-game lead with 17 games remaining. Wright hit over .340 during that stretch, but was the go-to guy for the media covering the team. He was asked about manager Willie Randolph’s future and he was clear who was to blame: ”This was on the players.”

It didn’t matter the issue, Wright was always there for a quote, and he didn’t hold back. He had no sympathy for players who cheated with performance-enhancing drugs. Whether the Mets won or lost, and they did a lot of losing, Wright was always accessible.

When the Mets swept Chicago in the 2015 playoffs and the Cubs gave him the third base bag, I needed a quote and he answered my text. He was always good that way. When Mets public relations Shannon Forde passed away, I went to the memorial service at Citi Field and was surprised that Wright had flown up from spring training to give a eulogy.

On second thought, no, I wasn’t.

Wright never did anything to embarrass himself or the Mets, and was deeply hurt in 2011 when owner Fred Wilpon told a national magazine Wright was ”not a superstar.”

He felt slighted, again a very human emotion.

Even so, because Wright wanted to retire a Met, he re-signed with them in 2012 for an eight-year, $138-million extension and will be paid through 2020.

There are some cynics who foolishly said Wright hung on for the money and the Mets’ Citi Field party last night was a sham, for them to sell a few more tickets before getting on to the business of hiring a new general manager and starting over once again, this time without the face of their franchise.

They’ll do so because Wright’s body betrayed him.

In late-April, 2011, Wright was injured attempting to make a diving tag at third base. He remained in the game and as was his nature, he kept playing through the pain. He played for nearly a month before finally getting an MRI that revealed a stress fracture in his lower back.

He returned from the disabled list in late-July, 2011, played that year’s final 63 games. Over the next two seasons, he ended up on the disabled list multiple times with shoulder and hamstring issues.

In early-2015, Wright reinjured his hamstring sliding into second base, and during that time was diagnosed with lumbar spinal stenosis, which causes intense muscle and nerve pain in the lower back and legs due to a narrowing of the spinal column.

He returned to return in time to give the Mets two moments to remember on the field and a demonstration of his value in the clubhouse. In his first game back off the disabled list, Wright hit a monstrous homer in Philadelphia. He also homered in the World Series.

However, there might not have been a World Series had Wright not lectured Matt Harvey on focusing on what was important. Harvey, who was coming off surgery, suggested through his agent, Scott Boras, that he should shut it down for the season to protect his arm.

Wright told Harvey the pitcher’s indecision had become a distraction and October opportunities are rare; he was the Mets’ captain and was demonstrating the leadership the team wasn’t getting from general manager Sandy Alderson or manager Terry Collins.

Wright demonstrated more leadership during a spring training game that spring in Port St. Lucie. Wright entered the clubhouse to get something from his locker when he spotted Noah Syndergaard sitting alone at a table with a plate of food.

Incensed, Wright told the rookie he should be in the dugout with his teammates watching the game, asking questions, learning things. While Wright was talking, Bobby Parnell picked up Syndergaard’s plate and dumped it in the trash.

”The winning attitude,” Syndergaard said of what he learned about the incident. ”That is something David talked to me about when the whole situation went down. It taught me how to be a student of the game a little bit more. You go out [to the bench] to try to learn something new. You don’t need to be inside eating lunch. Something could be happening that you could potentially learn from.”

In both cases, Wright didn’t bring up either incident and downplayed his role.

Jacob deGrom said it isn’t even close, but Wright, ”is the best teammate I’ve ever been around.”

The only problem is Wright hasn’t been around.

In early-2016, after only 134 at-bats, Wright sustained a herniated disc in his neck that required season-ending surgery. While rehabbing, Wright was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement. Later that summer, Wright underwent rotator cuff surgery and all of 2017 was lost.

There were whispers Wright would never play again, but he wasn’t ready to call it a career. He was determined to play again, to have his daughters, two-year-old Olivia Shea and four-month-old Madison see him play, even if they didn’t know what they were seeing.

Wright could explain it to them later.

Before the weekend, Wright said: ”As a young player … you think you can play forever. For me, unfortunately, my body is not allowing it to happen.”

However, the Mets wanted to give Wright one more moment in the sun. Overanxious, Wright swung at the first pitch and grounded out to third in a pinch-hitting appearance Friday night.

Last night was choreographed.

When the Mets took the field, Wright ran out to third base, but his teammates stayed behind. Next, Jose Reyes ran out to shortstop and the two embraced. Suddenly, it was 2006 again, and the two teammates who were supposed to play together for decades were back in their twenties.

Wright, who needs two hours of stretching and exercises just to get ready to play, reached his goal of starting one more game. Few players leave the game on their own terms, and Wright didn’t, either.

”I am at peace with the work I’ve put in,” Wright said. ”I’m not at peace with the results. I want to keep playing.”

Wright finished with a .296 average, 242 homers, 970 RBI, .376 on-base percentage and .867 OPS. He is unquestionably the greatest player to begin and end his career with the Mets. His career was on a Hall of Fame trajectory before the injuries, but Wright never lamented his misfortune. He never made excuses. He just kept working harder.

He didn’t want to go out that way, but he didn’t beg for this weekend. He earned this weekend.

“If you’re not a person like David Wright is, you don’t get to get honored like this,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their lives, and then they have to be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard.”

And, Wright knew what he meant to the Mets.

“It’s been a long road to get to that goal, but the love and the support I’ve received from inside the organization, outside the organization has been first class, and words can’t express the gratitude I have for everybody,” Wright said. “I said it when I was a younger player and I’ll say it again: I truly bleed orange and blue, and throughout this process, the love and the support and the respect from inside and outside the organization have meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you’ll never have any idea how much it means to me.”

If you have any sense of compassion, all you had to do is look into Wright’s red eyes as he held the microphone and addressed the crowd, even the cynics.

His words choking back the tears, Wright said: ”To the fans, words can’t express my gratitude and appreciation for always having my back. You’ve accepted me as one of your own, and that right there is a tremendous honor.

“This is love. I can’t say anything else. This is love.”

Sep 17

As Season Winds Down, Mets Should Consider Cutting Back On Pitchers

Jacob deGrom is competing for the Cy Young Award, so the Mets won’t limit him during his final two starts. However, they might ease up on the gas when it comes to the rest of their rotation.

However, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz – all of whom have been injured – could benefit if their innings are reduced.

“We have to do everything can to make sure a June doesn’t happen again,” manager Mickey Callaway said of the Mets winning only five games in June. “Because it derails your whole season.”

Syndergaard has thrown 135.1 innings; Matz has thrown a career-high 140 innings; and with seven innings tonight in Philadelphia, Wheeler has logged 182.1 innings this season.

Wheeler, 12-7 with a 3.31 ERA and 1.12 WHIP, leads the majors with eight victories in the second half.

“He’s obviously had a great season, is in a very good spot health-wise right now, and we’re going to pay attention to him probably the most,” Callaway said.

That’s because Wheeler has had an extensive injury history, with Tommy John surgery keeping him out of the majors in 2015-16, and a stress reaction ending his 2017 season in July.

Wheeler needed to prove two things this season, 1) that he could stay healthy, and 2) that he could pitch up to his expectations. He’s done both, and with nothing else left to prove, it wouldn’t hurt for him to be shut down, or at least throw a minimum of five innings.

 

 

Sep 09

Mets Matters: Wright Still Wants To Play

Mets captain David Wright will play in his second simulated game Tuesday and still holds out hope he’ll return this season. The Mets have pronounced no such optimism.

Reports surfaced late last week the Mets were reluctant for Wright to return this season because it would void their insurance policy that covers 75 percent of his salary.

Coming with those reports was speculation there was tension between the franchise and its face.

“The last thing that I want to portray is that there is some sort of rift between the Mets and I,” Wright said. “That’s false. There has been communication, and I know where they stand and they know where I stand, so the communication, especially recently, has been fantastic, and I look forward to meeting with [chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon] in the coming days and formulating a game plan from here until the end of September.”

Wright will meet with Chief Operating Officer Jeff Wilpon after the simulated game to discuss the action plan for the rest of the season.

While it is understandable why Wright wants to play, but also why the Mets want him to keep sitting for this summer. However, the catch is unless Wright plays, we’ll never know if he’s physically capable of playing.

One would think that it is important to both Wright and the Mets to get that answer, even if it means it costing the team several million dollars.

DeGrom Scratched: With heavy rain in the forecast, the Mets scratched Jacob deGrom from today’s start rather than risk starting him, having him sit through a delay and losing him for the day.

Fundamentally, it was a good call, but it is one less start for him to make his case for the Cy Young Award.

The Mets, carried by starter Corey Oswalt and Michael Conforto’s two-run homer put a crimp in the Phillies’ playoff aspirations with a 6-4 victory.

Syndergaard injured: Noah Syndergaard left Saturday’s game with bruised right ribs after he was struck by a line drive off the bat of Philadelphia’s Cesar Hernandez.

X-Rays were negative.

“It’s a scary situation,” Syndergaard said. “It’s been my nightmare ever since I’ve started playing baseball. Today was just my judgment day of having a screamer come back at me. I mean, everyone was asking if I’m OK. I’m just concerned if the ball is all right.”

 

Aug 27

Mets Matters: Syndergaard Struggles Again

Noah Syndergaard might lead the Mets with a 9-3 record, but he still has a lot to work to do after being knocked around Monday night by the Chicago Cubs.

“It’s just been rhythm for me,’’ said Syndergaard, who gave up four runs on nine hits in six innings. “I feel like I’m wasting my ability to throw a baseball.’’

Jerry Blevins took the loss in relief, but that didn’t make Syndergaard feeling any better.

Overall, Syndergaard threw 102 pitches, which is way too many for six innings.mets matters

WRIGHT UPDATE: David Wright’s 20-day window to complete a minor league rehab assignment which expires Friday. Rosters can be expanded the next day, but the Mets haven’t indicated if he will be brought up.

Wright could be sent to Triple-A Las Vegas.

“I think that we’re just really trying to focus on the next day with David,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “It’s been such a long road and I think it would be unfair to everyone to have any kind of expectations other than just knowing we support whatever he is doing just day to day.”

Wright is owed about another $30 million through 2020.

“My goal is to certainly to make it back and if it doesn’t work out … at some point you have got to play,’’ Wright said. “You can’t just continue to sit here and rehab all year. I haven’t thought much about it, but since I have been in the big leagues it’s been over two years, so at some point if physically I can do it, great, and if physically I can’t, that’s a whole different conversation.”

BAUTISTA ON TRADE BLOCK: The Mets are talking to Philadelphia on a trade for Jose Bautista after the Phillies claimed him on waivers. The teams have until Tuesday to work out a deal.

The Mets considered dealing Bautista at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline but didn’t like the offers. Bautista is 37 and not in the Mets’ plans. The Phillies know they don’t have to offer much, so the Mets better not be holding out for much.

If the Mets want to trade Bautista, they are pretty much obligated to take what the Phillies offer. Callaway said Brandon Nimmo will come off the disabled list tomorrow, which almost assures there will be a deal.

 TOP PROSPECT MIGHT NOT COME UP: The Mets haven’t had much to cheer for this summer, but unbelievably are dragging their feet and haven’t said if they will bring up first base prospect Peter Alonso when rosters can be expanded.

Even more head-scratching is Callaway saying they are concerned with Alonso’s defense. And yet, they are willing to play outfielder Jay Bruce at first base.

“It’s not just about swinging the bat here,” the first-year manager said. “It’s about defense as well. We want to make sure he’s in a good spot in his overall game and the things we’re going to value in this organization moving forward.”

Yeah, go fiigure.

Aug 13

Mets Could Explore Six-Man Rotation

The idea of the Mets going to a six-man rotation has been brought up before and again is an issue. But, everybody needs to be in on it. Using Jacob deGrom on his normal rest so he can squeeze in a couple more starts to boost his chances to win a Cy Young Award.

DeGrom deserves the chance considering how well he’s pitched, but if the Mets are serious about this they have to do it the right way: Pick your six pitchers and stick with them.

The worst thing about a six-man rotation is it would mean less starts each for deGrom and Noah Syndergaard. That would also mean fewer innings pitched, which theoretically would keep them fresher for longer. Currently, the target number of starts is 34; it would mean 27 starts in a six-man rotation.

A rotation of deGrom, Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Zack Wheeler, Corey Oswalt and Jason Vargas would include two left-handers to keep things balanced. Ideally, I would separate deGrom and Syndergaard as to give more balance in the rotation regarding innings eaters to avoid taxing the bullpen.

“We want to see [Oswalt] pitch Saturday and then sit down and really see exactly what we want to do with all of our players after that,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “Especially since we want to monitor guys like [Noah] Syndergaard and Wheeler, a six-man rotation might make sense at some point.”

Callaway is thinking about keeping his pitchers fresh for this season, but what about next season?

The game is always evolving, and with the investment teams have with these pitchers a six-man rotation could be invaluable in keeping them healthy. For this to really work, the pitchers have to be told at the end of the season that is the plan for 2019 and give them a chance to buy in.

It then has to be implemented in spring training with no deviation.

Of course, for this to work they have to pitch well.