David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
MIAMI - David Wright won't be in the lineup Sunday when he returns to Port St. Lucie. Instead, he'll be in the trainer's room.
When he shows up, though, the first thing he needs to do is publicly apologize to the Mets.
Wright, affectionately known as Captain America during the World Baseball Classic, was the highlight of Team USA's otherwise disappointing run, which ended with Friday's loss to Puerto Rico. It was a nice story, great for commissioner Bud Selig's tourney and even got Mets media relations guru Jay Horwitz to dress up in a spandex Bucky suit.
But above all else, Wright's allegiance is to the Mets. And by his own recollection, the franchise third baseman played at least a week with the rib-cage discomfort that was diagnosed Friday as a mild intercostal strain.
Wright is a tough guy, a true gamer and a fun player to spend time with for those who have covered him on a regular basis. But if what he said is true, and he kept quiet about his injury for fear of being yanked from the WBC, that's inexcusable.
"It was something I was able to manage," Wright said shortly after he was scratched from Thursday's game. As for the injury report, the one that eventually alerted the Mets, Wright added, "I didn't go on it right away."
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said Thursday was the first he had heard of the injury. Wright indicated that he initially felt the problem as far back as Team USA's early days in Phoenix, which is right around the time Mark Teixeira was sent back to the Yankees after complaining of wrist soreness.
From that point, Wright must have known any whisper of an injury would airmail him right back to Port St. Lucie, without a round-trip ticket. If he did as much as ask Team USA trainer Gene Monahan for a tissue, it was curtains for Wright and the WBC.
So he didn't say anything, and Wright continued to play at such a high level that nobody could have guessed he was hurting. Heading into Thursday's game, Wright was batting .438 (7-for-16) with two doubles, 10 RBIs and Team USA's only home run, a grand slam against Italy. He also took batting practice and was fully dressed and game-ready, right down to his spikes, before the decision was made to pull him.
Wright planned to play, and that's what makes the WBC such a risky gamble, toeing the line between spring training and what we are told is spirited international competition. If this had been the Grapefruit League, Wright would have taken a few days off from games at the first twinge.
But there's no middle ground, no cruising, no get-your-work-in type speed in the WBC environment. Even though the players know what they are signing on for, the sudden urgency can sneak up on them.
"Here, it's like a full-court press," the Reds' Brandon Phillips said. "You're going real hard and you just go right at it. You can't work on at-bats getting ready for the season. You got to go right out there and try to produce."
Wright accepted that part. He realized the U.S. team wanted to make a better showing than in years past, and unlike the rest of his teammates, he actually did produce. But somewhere along the way, maybe in all of those interviews talking about Team USA's patriotic duty, the lines got blurry for Wright.
Surrounded by MVPs and fellow All-Stars -- something he doesn't have in Queens -- and managed by Joe Torre, Wright probably was enjoying himself. Throughout the WBC, Wright even called him Mr. Torre, as if he were under some Jeter-ian trance.
Let's face it. The chance to win a title of any sort is something Wright won't have this season, or even in the foreseeable future, with the Mets. The WBC has its own big, shiny trophy. Can you blame Wright if he fantasized about hoisting it during an on-field celebration with his USA pals?
We're not making excuses for Wright, just trying to figure out where he might be coming from on this. Because as it stands now, Wright screwed up.
Sure, there's a lot of pride in playing for the United States, and it's a nice perk getting to skip out on Port St. Lucie for Phoenix and Miami for a few weeks. But the Mets just forked over $138 million to Wright, and that kind of money brings with it certain responsibilities.
Namely, the Mets come first. There really are no others.
Wright owes them that much.