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 19

Mets Offense As Bad As The Numbers Say

The Mets were shut out for the 12th time this season tonight in Philadelphia, which along with injuries and their bullpen, accurately defines the Mets’ most serious deficiency this summer.

The offensive breakdowns can be attributed to injuries primarily to Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes and Michael Conforto.

The rankings, for lack of a better word, are just ugly. With ten games remaining, they rank:

26th in runs scored with 646, with only the Padres, Giants and Marlins in the National League behind them.

27th in hits with 1,212, ahead of the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Padres.

18th in doubles with 246, 52 behind league leader Atlanta.

19th in homers with 164.

21st in RBI with 619.

12th highest with 1,301 strikeouts, which has long been a franchise problem.

22nd with 64 stolen bases.

28th in batting average at .236.

21st in on-base percentage at .312.

24th with a .704 OPS.

24th in total bases with 2,014.

19th in extra-base hits with 442.

It has been said you can make statistics say anything you want, but there’s no way you can make them say the Mets have had a good year at the plate.

WHEELER SHUTDOWN: As suggested here a few days ago, the Mets have shut down Zack Wheeler for the remainder of the season. Manager Mickey Callaway said Wheeler has nothing left to prove.

“We’re really excited about the year he had, and we feel like we’d probably be taking the best care of him we can if we shut him down at this point,” Callaway said.

Corey Oswalt will take Wheeler’s spot in the rotation, beginning Saturday in Washington.

Wheeler didn’t pitch in 2015-16 following Tommy John surgery and had last year cut short with stress on his arm. After a rocky start this year, he has a 9-1 record and 1.68 ERA in 11 starts in the second half.

“[My] body after this long is starting to wear down a little bit,” Wheeler said. “But if I really needed to for the playoff push or something, I could definitely go out there and finish it up. That’s not why I’m stopping. It’s just being smart, really.

“I’ve done some thinking, and I wish the first part of the season was more like the second part. Obviously, I think overall it was a good season for me. A bit of a learning experience at the beginning. I made some adjustments, and I was able to take off the second half.”

TEBOW TO RETURN: Tim Tebow is expected to return to the Mets organization in 2019.

Tebow underwent season-ending surgery on his right hand in July to repair a fractured hamate bone. In 84 games at Class AA Binghamton, Tebow hit .273 with six homers and 36 RBI and started as the DH in the Eastern League All-Star Game.

 

Aug 30

Money Is Why Mets Won’t Bring Up Wright And Alonso

David Wright’s stay in Class AAA Las Vegas was a short one as he rejoined the Mets today in San Francisco. However, the move isn’t for our eyes, but the team’s medical staff.

“It’s unrealistic to think he would be activated anytime soon, based on what we have seen to this point,” assistant general manager John Ricco said on a conference call with reporters. “But we really have been taking it step-by-step and giving him every opportunity to get back.”

WRIGHT: Talks limits with Collins. (AP)

WRIGHT: Talks limits with Collins. (AP)

Wright told reporters in Las Vegas: “My goal is to play in the big leagues this year. I think that with the challenge I have physically, I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility that I could play in the big leagues this year.’’

Wright went 1-for-9 in two rehab games with Las Vegas, and in 12 games overall – including ten games with Class A St. Lucie – Wright hit .171.

Clearly, Wright isn’t playing with any consistency to warrant being activated, but another factor is the insurance policy the Mets hold on his contract. Currently, the team is recouping 75 percent of his $20 million salary, but that will end once he comes off the disabled list.

If Wright is activated once the rosters are expanded Sept. 1, it would cost the Mets over $2 million, and, his deductible would automatically reset, costing them even more next season.

Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon has repeatedly said the team considers Wright’s salary part of their payroll regardless.

Working out with the team would not entail playing in games as the minor league schedule will end next week. In all probability, he could be shut down for September.

“Right now, we’re focused on, let’s see how he finishes up here in the last few days and we’ll have some more discussions about the specifics of what the rest of the year looks like,” Ricco said.

Money is also a significant reason why top prospect first baseman Peter Alonso won’t be brought up. Ricco said Alonso needs to improve his defense, but also the Mets need to look at Jay Bruce at first base in preparation for next season.

“To have Pete come up and really just sit didn’t make a lot of sense,” Ricco said.

Alonso told MLB.com: “I’m not going to lie, it’s really disheartening and disappointing because one of the things that people tell you is as long as you are successful, you’re going to be in the big leagues. It’s just one of those things where I understand it’s an organizational decision, and at the end of the day, I have to respect that. But it’s really disheartening because I feel like I’ve performed, and am deserving of a reward.’’

In 125 combined games at Class AA Binghamton and Las Vegas, Alonso hit .277 with a .393 on-base percentage, 33 homers, 26 doubles and 111 RBI.

 

Jun 11

Timing Of Gonzalez Release Is Bizarre

Not that Adrian Gonzalez was going to turn their season around, but the timing of the Mets releasing the 36-year-old first baseman after Sunday night’s game – even with three strikeouts – seems a little odd.

For a team in desperate need of offense, why would you release a player who is third in RBI with 26, especially with the leader Asdrubal Cabrera leaving Sunday’s game with an apparent hamstring injury and the second-ranked player in Yoenis Cespedes suffering a setback in his rehab and is out indefinitely?

GONZALEZ: Gone already. (AP)

GONZALEZ: Gone already. (AP)

Bringing up Dominic Smith, who wasn’t impressive in his trial last season, doesn’t appear to be the answer, especially when the Mets are also throwing out the idea of trying Jay Bruce and Jose Bautista at first base.

Smith, who was injured and missed most of spring training because of a strained quad muscle, never had the opportunity to compete with Gonzalez and learn from the All-Star.

As is often the case with GM Sandy Alderson, the announcement was made after the media availability to Gonzalez was over and reporters didn’t have a chance to speak with him.

The Mets will also bring up Ty Kelly with Smith and for the second time in a month, catcher Jose Lobaton was designated for assignment.

As far as Cespedes goes, there’s no timetable for his return any longer. Cespedes played in a rehab game Friday with Double-A Binghamton without incident and sustained a setback Saturday. He’s now in Port St. Lucie working with the Mets’ rehabilitation staff.

“We had been excited about the prospect of getting him back in a few days,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “But we can’t let these injuries stop us from doing what we need to do. We have other Major League players who can step up and get the job done, and that’s what we need to do.

“As this continues to move forward, and it continues to drag on, there has to be a level of understanding that it’s maybe something you battle throughout the rest of your career.

“But I don’t think we’re at that point yet. The goal is still to get him to where he can be out there and feel normal.’’

Cespedes missed 81 games last season and has already missed 24 with more games coming off the schedule on a daily basis.

Jun 02

Nimmo Needs Play, Even After Cespedes Returns

The Mets appear to have found something during what is fast becoming a lost season. Ignored for bigger names, Brandon Nimmo has gotten the opportunity young players covet – and is making the most of it.

With Yoenis Cespedes and Juan Lagares injured – the latter is lost for the season – Nimmo is getting the regular at-bats that lefty-righty devotees denied him.

NIMMO: Needs to play. (SNY)

NIMMO: Needs to play. (SNY)

That must continue.

Nimmo entered Saturday’s game having homered in two straight games and getting at least two hits in four consecutive games.

“He’s been great,” manager Mickey Callaway said. “He’s doing the job on both sides of the baseball. I feel like he’s playing good defense. He’s obviously swinging the bat well, and taking his walks, things like that. He’s a young player that’s blossoming in front of us, and I think that he’s making a case for himself.”

The numbers support Callaway.

Nimmo had nine hits through May 3, but with Cespedes out, he has 11 extra-base hits, and nine RBI in his past 11 games (hitting leadoff), for a .390 average and .927 slugging percentage. Five of those extra-base hits have been homers. On May 22, Nimmo was batting a pedestrian .244. Today he’s up to .294. It’s all because he’s getting a chance.

“The more playing time that I’ve gotten has helped me get in a good rhythm, and make good adjustments,” Nimmo said. “It might be the biggest thing. I haven’t done anything drastically different. That’s the biggest thing right there.”

More than his production is Nimmo’s passion and enthusiasm. It’s infectious. Nimmo plays every game as if it is his first … or last. How many times in these few weeks have you wondered, “what if everybody played like Nimmo?” Cespedes certainly doesn’t have Nimmo’s passion.

However, even with the emergence of Nimmo, the Mets are still pining for Cespedes. Both GM Sandy Alderson and Callaway spoke of the need for him to get back, and also the amount of money they are paying him. Cespedes will make $29 million this year and next, and $29.5 million in 2020.

“It’s been big,’’ Callaway said. “We count on his offense. We’ve paid him a lot of money to come out there and produce, and we don’t have him right, so it’s been tough.’’

What the Mets should have learned last month is even when Cespedes returns, Nimmo, who makes $555,968 this year, needs to play. The bench and minor leagues should be something said in past tense about him.