NEW YORK -- One by one they filed into a conference room at Citi Field -- some of them Mets teammates David Wright has known for years, others with whom he's never shared the field. A few sat in chairs, a few leaned against a side wall as Wright, entering separately from another doorway, laid out the plans for the rest of his career.
Fighting back tears at an emotional news conference Thursday, Wright announced he will return from a 2 1/2-year absence to start at third base on Sept. 29. He does not expect to play again after this month.
"Physically and the way I feel right now, and from everything that the doctors have told me, there's not going to be any improvement," Wright said. "So yeah, I don't see [playing beyond September] as a possibility."
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The Mets will activate Wright at the start of their final homestand on Sept. 25, and perhaps use him as a pinch-hitter at some point during the week. No matter what else happens, he is scheduled to start at third base Sept. 29 against the Marlins.
At that point, Wright's future becomes complicated. Both Wright and Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon were careful not to use the word "retirement," saying instead that Wright will not be medically able to play beyond September. He is still under a guaranteed contract worth $27 million in 2019 and '20, and a source indicated Wright will receive that entire salary. For most of the past two seasons, the Mets have recouped 75 percent of Wright's money via an insurance policy; what, if any, agreement they made in that arena remains a private matter for now.
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Thursday, such logistical details were secondary to the emotions of Wright, the Mets' all-time leader in hits, doubles, walks, runs scored and RBIs, who has not appeared in a big league game since May 27, 2016. The Mets' captain for the past six seasons, Wright is a seven-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glover and two-time Silver Slugger Award winner, posting several Hall of Fame-caliber seasons from 2005-12. Injuries began interfering with his career in 2011 and grew more troublesome in May 2015, when doctors diagnosed him with spinal stenosis -- a back condition that will affect him for the rest of his life.
Since that time, Wright has undergone surgeries on his neck, shoulder and back, appearing in merely 75 big league games.
As he nursed his injuries, going on Minor League rehab assignments in August 2016 and '17, Wright experienced pain that was sometimes moderate and sometimes so extreme that he could not perform basic everyday activities. In recent weeks, his goal morphed from returning to the Mets as an everyday player to returning simply for one final game -- a sendoff befitting one of the greatest players in franchise history.
"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 has meant the world to me. Thank you to everybody involved, and you'll never have any idea how much it means to me."
For Wright, among the driving factors in suiting up again was the opportunity to play for the first time in front of his daughters, 2-year-old Olivia Shea and 4-month-old Madison. Wright mentioned them multiple times during his tearful, 29-minute news conference.
"To my teammates, coaches and staff, it's truly been an honor of a lifetime to take the field with you and serve as your captain," Wright said at the beginning of his remarks. "Some of my closest friendships are formed in that clubhouse, and we will certainly be friends for life. 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."
Wilpon indicated that the Mets, eventually, will retire Wright's No. 5 and induct him into the team Hall of Fame, though he could not say when that ceremony might occur. The Mets also would not reveal for certain that Wright will play his final game with Jose Reyes alongside him at shortstop, though that, too, appears to be inevitable.
When both of those things happen, more emotions seem likely -- tears shed for a career that injuries cut short.
"This is a very difficult day for me and the entire organization, our fans," Wilpon said. "David Wright is a Mets icon, one of the finest players, and people to wear a Mets uniform or any uniform."