July 21st 2004, a kid from Tidewater, Virginia trots out to third base in a stadium in the nation’s largest and perhaps most demanding city. This ball player went on to be the face of the team, city, and league; but what is more amazing is how he ended up leaving third base with the same genuine spirit of that kid 14 years prior.
We all know and love the player David Wright was as well as recognize his off-the-field presence, but I thought I’d share a few perspectives of his career from the point of view of someone from his hometown.
Part of the wave of talent streaming from Southeastern Virginia following Michael Cuddyer, Wright distinguished himself from others with his bat, glove, and demeanor. Scouts were able to watch him while playing on a travel ball team that showcased an infield of Melvin (B.J.) Upton, Ryan Zimmerman, and Mark Reynolds. Justin Upton was the batboy. Despite all those talented players Wright has become the role model for athletes from here, and someone people count on.
He quickly became someone Mets fans could count on too with his barehanded grab and his walk-off against newly-elected Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera. This dependability extended off the field as well.
Wright has raised over a million dollars for a children’s hospital in the area through the David Wright Foundation. He was in town recently for his 9th annual CHKD fundraiser aptly named “Wright Night.” The Vegas-themed event brings together many locals and local celebrities as well as the kids it has helped.
The night before this I was fortunate enough to meet Mr. Wright, who said with a smile “Just call me David.”
His exciting stint with the Triple-A Norfolk Tides electrified his home fans, myself included, but it was cut short with a major-league callup. I’ve heard stories saying he had previously agreed to throw out the first pitch for a local little league, but after the callup the league assumed that could no longer happen. However, he supposedly told the Mets he had a “prior engagement”, flew to Norfolk, taxied to the ballfields for the first pitch, autographs, and a speech before riding back to the airport and then back on the plane.
He gave a different kind of speech on September 29th 2018, so named “David Wright Day” (how can a man have both a day and a night?), but it sure felt like it was given by the same grateful and cheerful 21 year old kid from Virginia.
All too often while playing a children’s game professional players become very stern, but Wright never seemed to lose the soul of a kid. He cracked the largest of grins after a big win and always remained upbeat even when in a slump. With the highs and lows, All-Star appearances and Disabled List trips, Wright kept at it with the same stubborn determination of a kid chasing their dreams. When his age caught up to him, he worked even harder to get back on the field out of a love for the game.
From day one his career was something Mets fans cherished, and it was the combination of joy, generosity, and willpower that made many kids from the Norfolk-area the Wright kind of fans and the Wright kind of people.
One last note: it is well worth it if you have a chance to look at the box score of that first game all those years ago. Southpaw Mike Stanton gave up a game-tying three run homer to the then Expo light-hitting lefty Endy Chavez (and little me learned a few new words from the Shea faithful), but the Mets won off a couple of Expos miscues in the 8th. Despite all the on the field drama the attention was on the new third baseman, and the attention should never slip completely away.