PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - David Wright lugged his bats down the dugout steps, trudged through the tunnel and hustled up the entryway to the clubhouse. But he stopped in his tracks at the sight of something he could not abide.
As most of the Mets toiled on the field during an intrasquad scrimmage Tuesday, prized pitching prospect Noah Syndergaard ate lunch in the air-conditioned comfort of the clubhouse.
The faux pas did not sit well with the team captain, who confronted the 22-year-old Syndergaard because he should have been watching the game alongside his teammates.
"Being a young player, any chance you get to learn, you go out there and learn,'' Wright told Newsday shortly after the incident.
Syndergaard was not scheduled to pitch in the game, though beforehand, pitchers had been told to be present.
Still, Wright caught the former first-rounder off guard when he demanded that he get back to the dugout immediately. Stunned, Syndergaard did not rise from his chair until another veteran leader intervened.
Bobby Parnell, who is in the homestretch of rehab from Tommy John surgery, soon joined Wright in imploring Syndergaard to get back to the dugout.
With Syndergaard's plate still piled with food, Parnell picked it up and tossed it into a nearby trash can. With the message received, Syndergaard stood and joined his teammates in the dugout, a lesson learned after some clubhouse justice meted out by veterans.
"If a kid's not playing nice, you take his toys away,'' Parnell told Newsday. "When you have a young and impressionable player, and you need to make him understand something that he's not understanding, you have to be a little forceful.''
Wright's intent, he told Newsday later, was not to single out Syndergaard. Rather, he believed it important to remind a young player to be mindful about chances to learn.
During the exchange, Wright barely raised his voice. He even smiled through most of it. But his words carried some punch.
"I'm not a big ranter and raver,'' Wright said. "When I get on somebody, it's 99 percent private. I'm not going to yell and scream. But when I speak to somebody, when I get on somebody, the point needs to be taken.''
Later, Syndergaard told Newsday he understood why the veterans had been irked.
"It was surprising,'' Syndergaard said. "It kind of caught me off guard. I really wasn't expecting it to be that big of a deal. So it took me off guard a little bit. But I understand where it's coming from.''
Syndergaard said he didn't "think much of it'' when he retreated to the clubhouse during the intrasquad game.
"There's really no point getting into details about it, but I came inside,'' he said. "I hadn't eaten lunch yet, so I figured it was as good as any [a time] to eat lunch. I didn't think much of it.''
That changed after he was spotted by Wright, who was exiting his first game action since being shut down last September with a shoulder injury.
Since he was named captain in 2013, Wright's leadership has come mostly by example. Even behind closed doors, it's rare for Wright to be vocal. But he made an exception with Syndergaard, who admitted last week that while at Triple-A Las Vegas last season, he constantly checked social media for word of a promotion.
A call-up never came.
"I understand exactly where David was coming from,'' said Syndergaard, a key piece in the 2012 trade of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey to Toronto. "It's not a big deal. No feelings were hurt. I understand. It was more of a veteran teaching a younger guy a teaching point.''
Parnell called the exchange unfortunate. He also acknowledged that the team's veterans could have done a better job spelling out the rules.
"This early in spring training, we haven't had a lot of time to go over clubhouse rules as players, clubhouse rules on and off the field kind of stuff between ourselves,'' Parnell said. "Obviously, the coaches have laid down some rules. There's some unspoken rules that you do.''
Still, for Parnell, lingering in the clubhouse during a game went against a sense of unity that the Mets have been trying to instill. Part of that unity involves younger players such as Syndergaard getting the most out of camp, especially because he might be called up to contribute this season.
"For us, we want to make a sense of camaraderie, a sense of guys watching the game and learning from the game,'' Parnell said. "If you're in the clubhouse, you can't really do that.''
A contrite Syndergaard said he realizes his mistake, one that he won't make again.
"It was just a learning point for me, a team camaraderie thing,'' Syndergaard said. "I understand where David was coming from. We're playing a team sport. I should be out there supporting my teammates.''
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