Think about it for a second.
You’re a young player. You were born in the 1990’s. Your dream your entire life has been to make the major leagues. From when you’re a kid, you watch your favorite team on TV most every night. Your dad or your mom or your favorite uncle takes you to a couple of games a year. You watch the guys down on the field and say, “I think I can do that.” You want to play. You start by playing street games: stickball or stoopball or slap or wiffleball. Christmas comes and your mom or your dad or your favorite uncle gets you your first glove. You start to play more organized games. Maybe you don’t start in tee-ball because you have all those street games under your belt, so you play in leagues where they use aluminum bats, where the sound is PING, rather than CRACK. You wear a helmet with a cage in front. You swing at everything, practically. You play. Turns out, you’re pretty good.
You go through Little League and Babe Ruth League and travel teams. You make the freshman team in high school and bat .750, you slug .910. You play varsity later on. The scouts and the college recruiters come around. Should you sign a pro contract right away? You’re itching to, but your dad or your mom or your favorite uncle wants you to go to college. You’re good enough for a scholarship at a school close to home, so you take it. You continue to rake. You’re knocking the jock off the ball, in fact. The scouts are drooling. They see you slug and have visions of the next Mickey Mantle, the next Reggie Jackson, the next Giancarlo Stanton. They go back to their front offices and rave about this kid down in Florida who’s knocking the jock off the ball.
You get drafted shortly before your twenty-first birthday. You get drafted in an early round, but your dad or your mom or your favorite uncle don’t think the money is right, so you go back to school for your junior year. You get drafted again the next year… by the New York Yankees. Well, in that case, you sign that baby pretty quickly. You get a taste of the Big City because you’re assigned to Staten Island for your first pro posting. You think it’s all pretty amazing. You’re a professional baseball player in New York City. You’re gonna take the town by storm. You play hard for two years, dreaming of landing in the Bronx. Until you get traded.
The Yankees have sent you to the Arizona organization for a veteran infielder. You play hard down in the desert for a couple of years. You finally get that proverbial cup o’ coffee with the Diamondbacks – 10 at bats at the end of the 2015 season and you’re a .400 hitter. You spend most of the next year at the AAA level. You manage to amass another 64 at bats in the Show, but you couldn’t hit a bull in the butt with a bass fiddle: a slash line of .141/.179/.391/.570. Clearly, you need more seasoning, but you won’t get the chance in Arizona: you’ve been traded to the Kansas City Royals that January. Then the fun starts.
The Royals place you on waivers in May and you’re claimed by the Cincinnati Reds. Ten days later, you’re now a Texas Ranger, because the Reds have also waived you. 20 days after that, you’re a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers, because – you guessed it – Texas has placed you on waivers.
You don’t spend a day in the majors that year.
You start to wonder if you’re really cut out for this gig, but you’re living the dream, so you press on. The Dodgers sell you to the Miami Marlins the following June. You’re home! You’ve come full circle and now playing in front of your friends, the guys you played street games with, guys you played with in high school and college, your dad, your mom and your favorite uncle. You spend September with the big club in that whacky ballpark with no fans and that ridiculous pinball machine in left center. The last weekend of the year, the team travels to New York.
It’s a big weekend in Queens, because it’s been announced that David Wright will be playing his final Major League games. You’ve heard of David Wright. You saw him in the World Series after your proverbial cup o’ coffee. He’s got a lot of stats to back up his legend and from your time in Staten Island, you know he’s a pretty big deal to the Mets, to the City and to baseball. You might have even heard him called “Captain America” on occasion. In the Friday night game, when your guys blew out the Mets 8-1, Wright pinch hit, his first at bat since the end of May 2016, and grounded out to third on the first pitch he saw. Citi Field – sold out for the first time in a long time – shook with anticipation when Wright came to the on-deck circle. That was pretty cool.
The next day, everybody knew Wright wouldn’t get more than two at bats before exiting to a hero’s ovation. You’re the starting first baseman on this night. The lines to get into the park were phenomenal. I’ve heard tell it took some fans two hours to find parking at Citi – some ending up, basically in Long Island. So it’s a packed house. You get up in the first inning with a guy on and draw a walk off Steven Matz. Wright also walks in the first, to thundering applause. Nobody scores the next two innings, either and Wright leads off the fourth. In his two farewell games thus far, Wright has seen seven pitches, swung at three of them. You’re at first base, ready for anything. Ready to finally make an impression on your big league team, hoping you figure into their plans for 2019. Wright takes the first pitch and goes through his ritual, the routine his fans have seen since 2004: tilting his head to the right, then the left, then stretching his arms and raising the bat in front of him over his head, finally tugging at the back of his jersey before settling into the box. He steps in. Your pitcher, Trevor Richards, throws a fastball that Wright can barely catch up to. He swings and pops it up in foul ground. It’s coming your way. This is history in your hands. This is almost definitely Wright’s last at bat and you control how it’s going to go into the record books. The ball is coming down right at you. If you have a sense of history, you let it drop: it’s game 161 in a season where neither of these teams are going anywhere. This game means literally nothing, except to David Wright and the fans who waited two hours to park so that they could watch David Wright hit a home run, not see you catch a popup. If you have a sense of history, you let it drop. But you’re Peter O’Brien, a still-young player, a professional, trying to win a job for next season. The ball comes down and you squeeze it in your glove – a bigger version of the glove given you by your dad or your mom or your favorite uncle.
David Wright’s career is now over and every time you set foot on the Citi Field grass, you will be booed; Mets fans have long memories.
Follow me on Twitter @CharlieHangley.