The final scene of Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” captures what it can feel like to be a Met fan going into 2010 — Hold on. I should note that this part is going to have some spoilers, but if you are yet to see the movie, you probably aren’t ever going to see it anyway. You’ve been warned. — Anyway, Met fans are Matt Damon. Your pregnant girlfriend just walked out on you, your mentor/father figure has died, you’re alone. You’re having a pretty rough time. Not a lot of things have gone according to plan. And then, after all that, you walk into your apartment, groceries in arm, and find yourself staring down a gun held by Mark Wahlberg, and Mark Wahlberg is scary enough in real life.
And this point, all you can muster is a shrugged “okay. . . ” and a look of resignation to your dour fate. And now this too.
Carlos Beltran is out for a few months? Sigh. Okay. Jose Reyes is out for opening day? Whatever. You suddenly realize Mike Pelfrey and Oliver Perez may combine to make 60 starts? Shrug. Daniel Murphy sprains his knee? Darryl Strawberry gets kicked off The Celebrity Apprentice? K-Rod’s pink eye? Would anyone be surprised to learn that Jeff Francoeur has been placed into an iron lung? Or that Johan Santana has been hospitalized after a misguided blood-letting performed by the team barber? The team gets smallpox? Would you feel anything at all upon learning something like that?
Over the past years, a nightshade of predictably poor performances and increasingly impressive incompetence has worn Met fans down to a weary acceptance of fate. We are possibly the (non-Cub) fanbase most hated by the baseball gods, the people cursed and spit upon by chance. We are entering the 24th year of what will surely be one thousand years of darkness, witnesses to the Greek tragedy of a major market team failing in a time when the baseball is set up – begging, really – to be dominated by major market teams. But the Mets just can’t get it right, and I really don’t know why.
Baseball is going to tinker with this format soon, and then the Mets will be just another team, and not the financial giants they are now – that is going to happen, and then the window will close. You might think that this is among the unluckiest fan bases in baseball, to have been crushed repeatedly under the immense weight of teetering hope.
And you would be wrong.
Not that the Mets aren’t heart-breakers, and not that they haven’t been unlucky. They have been both. The Mets really may not win in your lifetime – that’s a possibility. Countless Cub, White Sox, and Red Sox fans would bear ghostly witness to that fact. Keep it in the back of your mind, that there are never any guarantees in baseball – even Jimmy Rollins is eventually proven wrong. Curses are cast and then broken, and nothing lasts forever, neither cold November rain nor you. Over the past seasons, an impossible number of things have gone wrong. They really have. You might not be around to see the better times. You probably will, but it’s not a given – everything could just continue to be bad. I hope not, but it could happen.
Even so, us current Met fans are not unlucky.
We are not. It’s okay. Step away from the ledge, take your head out of the oven. It’s not that bad. It never is.
We are not unlucky, because we have watched what will be the greatest position player in history of this franchise develop over the past six years. In his five-and-a-half seasons, David Wright has vaulted himself to second all-time in average as a Met, third in on-base percentage and slugging. He is fifth in home runs, sixth in runs and stolen bases, seventh in total bases. He is already just three doubles off the franchise lead, and has a distant chance of catching Tris Speaker’s record of 792, especially if the confines of Citi Field turns some home runs into doubles. Wright should jump to third on the all-time Met hit list near the end of this season, and reach first place sometime in 2012. It is not unreasonable to think that he will lead in every offensive category once his Met career ends, or even in just a few years, and in fact it might be unreasonable to think otherwise. He is our Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, or Stan Musial – David Wright may not reach the heights of such giants, but he is our giant and we are lucky to have him.
But this has been difficult to see. Wright has been a hidden superstar, obscured on one side by the equal brilliance of Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes, and on the other by the limping dinosaurs and mislabeled “fertilizer”, as manager Manuel would say, at other positions.
As the team thrashed and died in 2007, Wright hit .352/.432/.602 with 6 home runs, and probably should have won the MVP – if not for the exceeding difficultly in rewarding someone on a team that perpetrated one of the greatest collapses in history. Wright finished fourth in the voting anyway, and perhaps higher had he got a hit in every September at-bat. The Mets repeated their fall feat in 2008 as Wright hit .340/.416/.577, again with 6 September home runs, though the only at-bat remembered began with the count 3-0, and ended in strikeout and Daniel Murphy still standing at third. I was there, in the lower level behind home plate, and as Wright walked back to the dugout, every muscle in his body, from his jaws to his legs, tightened in a silent scream of frustration. In such situations, it should always be recalled that despite all the time spent alone in the field, at the plate, and on the mound, baseball seasons are ultimately won and lost as teams. No one player can carry or sink it, no matter how much we’d like to believe so. It’s a collection of individuals, and Wright’s only real failing was to be marred by these forget-me-nows General Manager Minaya collected about him. He was great as everything fell apart around him.
Sometimes being great isn’t enough for some. I remember watching Wright interviewed after a game in 2008, before Willie Randolph was fired, as the Mets floundered about the .500 line, dropped seemingly even further by a sinker of expectations. The Mets had just lost again, and surrounded by microphones, Wright’s voice sounded distant and was raised an octave by exhaustion, as if he had been awake for a week straight. He had a big, red zit on his forehead. He looked impossibly burnt out for 25 and June – he just couldn’t do enough, no matter how he wanted to. Being the best player still wasn’t cutting it. Do more. Now he needed to become the captain for us, taking the role away from Carlos Delgado, who was not particularly fond of the media, Willie Randolph, diving for ground balls or even the fans, for that matter – Delgado didn’t like us and we didn’t like him, at least right then, and what fan wants the leader of their team to see us as an unfortunate annoyance?
And there was Wright, who we did like, and he was supposed to do even more now and transfer some of his talent to the lesser Mets. Here you go, David. We know you’re good and they’re all bad – make them better. And Wright’s greatness was seemingly lessened because he couldn’t play third base, man both outfield corners, and pitch out of the bullpen at the same time, or at least make those guys better. He couldn’t fix everything all on his own.
Of course he couldn’t. No one can. If being the best position player in the ENTIRE HISTORY of the franchise isn’t enough, what is? He was supposed to discover baseball alchemy, too? At age 25? Really? His greatness in youth was obscured by the flames around him, and he couldn’t put it out on his own.
But, in baseball years at least, 27 is much older than 25, and David Wright’s youth is now over. The line was drawn in 2009 by a Matt Cain fastball, the skyscraper walls of Citi Field, and “hitting the
other way.” I remember when I heard on the car radio that Wright had been knocked in the head, out of the game and onto the disabled list. Even him. He was booed, injured, and then he failed for the first time last year.
If his career was a novel, we would see the previous season as a metaphor for the young man losing his innocence. Home wasn’t home for him anymore, his body failed him for the first time, and all his friends disappeared. He has seen the other side of success, and is now aware of his baseball mortality. This year, he moves into maturity.
And you can see it. He is now unquestioningly The Guy.
David Wright story: In the red plastic sea of the Shea Stadium’s upper deck, now a few years back, I found myself seated to the right of a father and his young daughter for a Sunday afternoon game. The girl would not have been much older than seven, dressed in pink shorts, tufts of hair loosely arranged in a ponytail-and-a-half — I don’t know if Dad did the hair, or if he allowed the girl try to do it herself, but either way, Mom would have been horrified. This small girl had brought with her a lined spiral notebook, stickers haphazardly decorating the pink cover, into which she was carefully inscribing “David Wright” and circling the name with a penciled in heart. And then she did it again. And again. And repeated this process as delicately as her unrefined motor skills would allow, doodling in spirals and “D.W.” and hearts into the notebook for the duration of the game.
Another David Wright story: Two weeks ago, in Port St. Lucie, I watched a somewhat inebriated man in his late twenties try to chat up the Mets’ third baseman from his seat in the stands along the baseline. The shouting man’s sleeveless white t-shirt had a blue number “5“ on the back and the red and yellow superman symbol on the front, and he was accompanied by another post-grad, this one adorned in a blue sleeveless shirt that read “David Wright’s Bar Crawl, Brooklyn, New York” across the front in white lettering. “Hey David! David! You’re my boy! You’re my boy, David! WHOOO!” It seemed to me that he expected Wright to leave third base undefended and climb into the stands to exchange an exploding fist bump. The number five on the field eventually extended his glove in their general direction between batters, though no fist bumps, exploding or otherwise, were ever exchanged.
So here’s this person, David Wright, adored equally by Broseph and little girls, who for years has come into my living room and suffocating dorm room and accompanied me over the radio on long car rides, and I’m not really sure I know that much about him. He never has a bad word for anyone, not another player, not an umpire. He always says the right thing, which can be horribly dull. He is never one to lose his composure either – maybe he would spike an occasional batting helmet, but that’s it. He reminds me of people encountered in life that are perfectly nice and no one has a bad thing to say about, but you just don’t ever take any interest in them because they are boring, at least to you. Wright comes on my TV and goes 3-5, and then does it again the next night and the next one and on into forever – his greatness is as easy to overlook as a skyscraper passed by daily. He is perpetually great, a droning of awesome. Wright is consistency, and consistency is monotony, and monotony is by definition difficult to notice.
And, to be honest, Wright may also simply be this dull anyway – or at least as dull as a millionaire third baseman in New York can be. As David Waldstein in the New York Times reported, admirable making something out of nothing:
“Wright likes his routines. During the season he gets up, has breakfast, watches a movie or plays some video games, and then heads into the park around 2 p.m. Once there, he may fashion himself a sandwich in the food room, or just begin his baseball routines, which include watching video, hitting and weight lifting.”
And he eats a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch everyday.
There really isn’t a story here, at least not a compelling one. No hero overcoming himself, like so many players today. David Wright is not Josh Hamilton, and he’s not Zack Grienke. He’s not a villain either, a desperate-to-be-liked-but-only-on-his-own-terms-which-only-makes-him-an-unlikeable-egomaniac like Alex Rodriguez. Wright is a baseball hero, but a dull one.
This may sound boring, but it’s not. Seriously, it’s not. Wright is a blank slate and that’s wonderful. He is whoever you want him to be. If you’re a little girl, or even an older one, he can be your perfect little milk and cookies crush, and if you’re a twenty-something bro, you can go to the bar crawl with him and then make t-shirts. If you’re a workaholic, Wright’s a workaholic too – there’s a reason he can steals those bases, and it’s not speed – and if you like to relax, well then Wright plays a child’s game for a living. If you sit at home and play video games, he does that too. He’s just like you, or your brother, or your son, or your friend, only Wright is probably much better at hitting spherical objects great distances.
Think about it: could you imagine actually being Alex Rodriguez? What kind of movies do you think he watches? What does he eat for breakfast? And I mean, the centaur thing – is he really anything like you at all, or even anyone you know? What about Manny Ramirez? Kevin Youkilis?
Now what about the amiable, subtle dorkiness of David Wright? That’s an easier one. He’s the hero with a thousand faces, and maybe one of them is yours.
And, of course, he is all these things to everyone because he says all the right things and does all the right things, even if those things are dull and cliche. He is boring, but we’re all boring too. Most people are boring. Sorry. That dullness makes him relatable.
So this season, whenever a slugging impersonator aimlessly hacks away heroically, or a ball slips through the open window at second, or signs of neurosis are exhibited on the mound, or whenever the Mets decide obvious incompetence is the answer – just look to the left of the third base bag and see who is there. You may have missed the glory days of the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the Miracle Mets, and even the cocaine, tax-evading, cat-decapitating Mets of the 1980s — and you may never have anything similar to that — but you do have Wright now, and that’s something great too. Hold on to him amid the oft-hilarious bumbling.
I’m forever jealous that my father got to see Tom Seaver play. He’ll understand what he was in a way I never can. I wasn’t there and
I’ll never get it.
I hope one distant day my kids are jealous I got to see David Wright.
And these are the only times in eternity that a young David Wright will play for the Mets. You and I can see him, and I suppose you can tell your children and grandchildren about him too. The first act of his career is over – hopefully there is much more to follow. If you are a Met fan right now, watch him carefully. We’re lucky.
Big thanks to Keith Allison for making his tremendous Flickr stream available under Creative Commons.