Wright doesn't need 'C' on his jersey to be leader
NEW YORK -- David Wright on any day is as remarkable as the Mets on Opening Day. And they've won 34 of their most recent 44 openers. They do have some work to do on how they handle the subsequent 161. He too has a to-do list, because success in a game based on failure is as challenging as solving Rubik's Cube blindfolded.
You can wager your wallet that he'll keep at it. His foot comes off the accelerator only after the lights are turned off. But whether or not the brighter lights shine on him, Wright carries himself properly. In the arena that has no balls or strikes, he bats 1.000.
Monday was the ninth Opening Day in Wright's career, his first as the betrothed of Molly Beers, the first as a Rockefeller-rich young man and the first as the captain of the team that benefits so from his presence and his production. And through all those relatively recent life changes, he seems to have changed no more than the beaks of eagles.
It can't be said often enough. Wright is a remarkable man; a pretty fair baseball player, but a remarkable man and as appropriate a choice for captain as the game has seen.
His four-digit batting average is noticed throughout and outside the game. That's why the contents of one of his two lockers in the home clubhouse of Citi Field include an autographed copy of a new book by Tom Coughlin, hand delivered Monday by the New York Giants coach, and why Wright received a letter from Coughlin a few years back that said the coach enjoyed watching the Mets third baseman play.
Such communication across sports is uncommon -- even if Wright does get sideline passes from the Giants.
He stubs neither his toe nor his tongue. It isn't that his rap sheet is blank. No rap sheet has been prepared. Of how many high-profile folks in the world of professional sports can that be said?
In keeping with what we have come to expect of him, Wright was at his locker Monday soon after the Mets had put an 11-2 whacking on the Padres. He was giving credit to his teammates, declining much of whatever credit had been directed at him and saying nothing that could be misconstrued. He can be fooled by a slider, but not by an question. Good for him.
As much as any player -- and more than many, he plays with pain. When he isn't hurting, he plays as he did Monday, stealing bases, setting up runs, scoring a run, driving in another, making plays. He produced the kind of game a special player does when he doesn't have a special game -- complementary. And maybe he was hurting. He won't acknowledge any of it or even respond specifically to the question, "How many times in a season do you feel as good as you felt today?"
I would have appreciated a candid response, but I respect his sidestepping, so long as he didn't strain his groin doing so. He believes no one needs to know what he tolerates -- not the public, not his teammates and certainly not the Mets' opponents. "I'll count this year and tell you next Opening Day," is how he responded to my question.
He is less guarded than he was as a plebe in 2004, or even two years later when he was a formidable force on a division-winning team. He wasn't that guarded then, only deferential to his older colleagues -- Paul Lo Duca, Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado in particular. When he had to speak, he did. Ask Lastings Milledge.
"Seniority is big in this game," he said Monday. Wright knew his place then, and it was in the not-to-be-noticed corner of the clubhouse. Seniority is no less an element in the Mets' clubhouse now than it was when Cliff Floyd had Wright as his personal clubhouse butler, and Tom Glavine drew parallels between Wright and the too-good-to-be-true Dale Murphy. Murphy was genuine and Wright is too.
And the Mets, as lacking as they may be in terms of talent and experience, are better off because of his caliber -- could there have been a thought not to extend his contract? -- and better off with him setting the bar. Wright doesn't wear the C of the captain. He doesn't need to. His invisible rank is more noticeable than his No. 5.