Beginning in 2004, his rookie season as the Mets third baseman, David Wright has faithfully dropped in on a firehouse in New York City.
Every year, for eight straight years, he has kept up this tradition.
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"It's something that I look forward to, coming and visiting the firehouses each year, especially around this time," Wright said yesterday afternoon, when he stood in front of the building that houses Squad 18, home of seven firefighters who perished 11 years ago Tuesday.
Said Wright: "Like I said, I think I get more out of it than the firefighters do."
But even here, Wright couldn't escape the question of whether he'd be around next year to make a ninth straight visit. On that topic, the homegrown Mets star stuck to script, declining to offer details about his upcoming contract negotiations.
"I don't think it's the right time but I guess I'll answer your question," he said. "There's nothing new. I guess status quo."
Because he has been unwilling to hold contract talks during the regular season, the status quo for Wright means waiting for the offseason. But with the Mets' final negotiating window set to open in less than four weeks, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon declined to share even basic aspects about the team's plans to retain its most popular player.
"I think we've said all along that we plan on keeping David and we want David to be part of the organization long term," said Wilpon, who accompanied Wright on his visit to Squad 18. "Let's not get into the contract. He didn't want to negotiate during the season. We're not going to negotiate during the season. We'll find the right time to sit down and talk."
The efforts to retain Wright might hinge on the team's payroll flexibility, though Wilpon offered no hints on that front, either. Last month, general manager Sandy Alderson estimated that payroll might rise slightly from $95 million to $100 million in 2013. However, Alderson had yet to hold detailed discussions with ownership. Wilpon said those talks have yet to take place.
"I think it would be premature to talk about it until we have a full conversation," he said. "It's only September, so we've got time for the offseason. We've still got to win some more games down the stretch."
The Mets hold a $16-million option on Wright that keeps him under contract for 2013, which the team is likely to exercise. But without a long-term extension, Wright would begin next season as a prime candidate to be traded.
It's a situation that would promote the kind of distraction that Wright has tried to avoid by tabling contract talks until the winter. So for now, despite his uncertain future, Wright remains the face of the franchise.
The Mets' star capably played the part Monday, smiling for photos before disappearing into the firehouse to have lunch with the firefighters of Squad 18.
"We as a team do a really nice job of getting out in the community, not just for 9/11, but for other things," Wright said, mentioning that several of his teammates made similar visits last week.
"It's wonderful when you have somebody who's homegrown like that and can represent the organization," Wilpon said, though it's unclear if he can say the same thing a year from now. "It's terrific."