"The Mets have this prospect," my college roommate began, "he's only in A-ball, but he gets on base and hits for power with speed. But the weird part has been how much better he's played on the road. The team eventually realized that at home he was working out too much and constantly taking extra batting practice. It tired him out. They actually had to tell him to stop working so hard."
"Wow, I've never heard of that before," my eyes widened. I'd been let down by many Mets prospects over the years, but was still easily excited.
"And he's from Norfolk. So he grew up a Mets fan."
I don't remember the rest of that conversation, but I remember the first time I ever heard about David Wright.
Ten years later, Wright is almost certainly the best everyday player in Mets franchise history, and by the time his current contract expires, like Secretariat at the Belmont, no one else will even be in the frame. For a franchise that has played more than 50 seasons, he already leads comfortably in many career counting statistics, is among the leaders in many rate stats, and his individual seasons pepper the top ten lists of the Mets' very best.
Yet somehow his talent may still be under-appreciated by more than the "TRAID David Wrongz" crowd, who we love to hate around here, and Mike Francesca, who pointedly refers to him as "very good" but never "great." While Wright has long been a fan favorite, many don’t realize how good he really is. On Baseball Reference's interactive Fan EloRater he usually sits between 260 and 270 on the list of best position players, among the likes of Paul O'Neil, Dave Concepcion, and Bobby Murcer. That's about 200 spots behind Miguel Cabrera who, in 250 more games, has accumulated just seven additional Wins Above Replacement.
Even in the hype machine of New York, it seems necessary to remind ourselves to appreciate Wright's game and achievements while he is in the prime of his career. There are a number of factors conspiring against him: the many bad teams he's played on, the dip in his performance from 2009-11, and the constant disappointment and controversy that have dogged the Mets organization from Madoff to Bernazard to Bay.
I remember the first time I ever saw David Wright play. After spring semester my junior year, I drove to meet some friends at SUNY Binghamton for the school's annual bar crawl. The next morning, in 95-degree heat, I dragged them to a B-Mets game intent on seeing Wright before he arrived in Queens. He didn't disappoint, with a couple of hard hits including a line drive that nearly put a hole in the center-field wall. It was obvious that at 21 he had no business in Double-A. He would slug .525 in half a season in the majors later that year.
At present, Mets fans are rightfully enthralled by the boundlessness of Matt Harvey, but there is another reason to watch this team: the steady superstar who is etching his name among the game's all-time best. Wright is off to a great start this season, and his skills figure to age well. If they do, when he retires he will likely rate between the fourth- and eighth-best third baseman in the history of the game.
At this stage in his career, Wright's WAR fits well alongside the position's all-time greats, including Chipper Jones, Brooks Robinson, Wade Boggs, and others. He has a career 136 OPS+ that's better than Hall-of-Famers Boggs (131), Ron Santo (125), and Paul Molitor (122). Advanced metrics judge him well on the bases, and he is a strong bet to join the 300 HR/ 300 SB club, with a career a steal rate currently equal to Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. He is steady with the glove, and although advanced defensive metrics don't love him, he has a flair for the spectacular play, with a couple of Gold Gloves to show for it.
David Wright's career wasn't supposed to turn out this way, of course. In 2006 the Mets seemed poised to build a dynasty and Wright and Jose Reyes seemed poised to take over the city like Doc and Darryl before them. It seemed Wright would be a pivotal cog on a perennial playoff team. But in a weird way, the Mets' terrible downturn has made him something much more. For years he's been one of the best things about going to a Mets game, a source of pride for fans to the outside world, always playing hard, always saying the right things, always active for good causes, and always producing on the field. Wright's status as face of the franchise even seemed to overshadow his play as one of the best in the game.
Meanwhile there must have been moments when he wanted to turn his back on the Mets and go to a city where he could mean a little less to a much better team. But his sticking it out ought to create a bond between player and fan base far deeper than even a championship season could provide.
That bond was evident just this week.
"As soon as that ball went up, the first thing I thought about was Luis Castillo," Wright said of the pop up that ended Monday night's game against the Yankees. As that ball popped up, we were all thinking of four years earlier when Castillo cost us a game in the most frustrating way imaginable. You, me, David Wright.
But as nervous as Mets fans were when the ball went up, watching it come down was different. Because then we remembered who was under it.