David Wright’s tears began at the end — not the end of the game, but the end of his career, in the top of the fifth inning Saturday night, when he made the slow walk from third base to the home dugout at Citi Field.
His grand exit went down just as the team had planned, after two trips to the plate and one last trek onto the field before being subbed out. But having the itinerary didn’t make it any less emotional for him.
Wright tipped his cap, pointed to the fans, tapped his chest, pointed to the fans, clapped his bare right hand with the glove on his left, pointed to the fans, and waved toward the stands at his family, on their feet at field level behind home plate.
The Mets, lined up in front of the dugout railing, waited their turn for a handshake and a hug from Wright, who made his way through the procession, descended the dugout steps and popped back out for a curtain call. Then he ducked down the tunnel and into the clubhouse, where the tears continued as the Mets’ eventual 1-0, 13-inning win over the Marlins resumed.
The sellout crowd of an adoring 43,928 stood and cheered throughout Wright’s departure. The ovation lasted so long — a tad over three minutes — that the dramatic song playing over the public-address system, “Captain America March” from the superhero movie, ended before the clapping did.
Jose Reyes, who started at shortstop alongside Wright at third for the first time since Sept. 28, 2011, slid over to the hot corner to replace his friend.
“I held up good until I saw Mickey [Callaway] come out. That kind of hit me,” said Wright, who claimed to be “undeserving” of such a send-off. “Then I turned around to see our bullpen coming onto the field. Then I saw all the guys from the dugout come onto the field. For a split second, I looked around the stadium and saw all the signs and heard the chants. Everything hits you at once.”
The word “retirement’’ remains a vulgarity because of insurance implications, but Wright has acknowledged that his playing days are over after this week because of back, neck and shoulder issues. Knowing it was the end for their leader, the Mets sent him off with a celebration of his career, arguably the best by a position player in franchise history.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio declared Saturday “David Wright Day.” The game lasted so long that Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon didn’t read the proclamation to Wright until 11:51 p.m. during a postgame news conference.
The fans went wild for Wright’s every move: when he bunted his first pitch of batting practice, when he hopped out of the dugout for pregame warmups, when he threw a ball to Reyes, when he stood in line for the national anthem.
They booed when the first pitch Wright saw, a slider from Miami’s Trevor Richards, was called a strike by plate umpire Tim Timmons.
“It hit me right in the heart when I took the field for the first time and heard the fans cheer,” Wright said.
Wright’s game action was anticlimactic. He fielded a grounder by Bryan Holaday in the third and made the routine throw to first. In the first, he worked a full-count walk. In the fourth, he led off with a foul pop-up corralled by first baseman Peter O’Brien, who seemed to hesitate before deciding to catch it. (The fans heartily booed O’Brien throughout his three subsequent at-bats.)
“The at-bats were pretty amazing,” Wright said. “I wish I could have gotten a hit or found a hole. At least I have an on-base percentage this year.”
Then came his final walk. Watching from the infield was a Long Island kid who grew up rooting for Wright, who was in awe when he met the captain upon becoming a Met in 2009, who can lay claim to being the answer to this trivia question: Who was the Mets’ starting pitcher in Wright’s last game?
“It’s something I’m going to tell my grandkids about,” Steven Matz said. “Not only this game, but I got to pitch in a World Series with David Wright as my third baseman. That’s surreal.”
Watching from the dugout was longtime Mets bullpen catcher Dave Racaniello, perhaps Wright’s closest friend in the organization. Racaniello sought and received permission to watch the early innings from the dugout instead of his usual right-centerfield locale. “I’m glad he has an opportunity to soak these moments in,” he said. “Fifteen years — it seems like it went fast.”
Watching from the other dugout, in a serendipitous sort of way, was Marlins manager Don Mattingly, another New York baseball icon whose career ended prematurely because of back issues, and Marlins catching coach Brian Schneider, who made the putout in Wright’s first major-league at-bat. On July 21, 2004 against the Montreal Expos, Wright sent a pop-up foul — just like his last at-bat — and Schneider tumbled into the visitors’ dugout at Shea Stadium to snag it.
Watching from a suite, and scattered throughout the ballpark, were upward of 70 family members and friends. That included Wright’s daughters — 2-year-old Olivia Shea, who threw out the first pitch to her father, and 4-month-old Madison — who were among his primary motivations in pursuing a big-league return. Before this week, neither was alive to see their father in the majors.
“What touches me the most is David wanted to play in front of his two daughters,” Callaway said. “That says a lot about who he is and what he’s all about.”
Wright finishes as the Mets’ all-time leader in hits (1,777), RBIs (970), runs scored (949), doubles (390) and walks (762). He hit .296, made seven All-Star Games, was a two-time Gold Glover and Silver Slugger and finished in the top 10 in NL MVP voting four times. He was on a potential Hall of Fame track until injuries struck.
Saturday was about more than all of that, Callaway said. That’s what he wants the other Mets to take away from the night. “We’re doing something special for David not because of the numbers but because of the person he is,’’ Callaway said. “That’s probably the biggest lesson. These guys are going to play baseball for a small part of their life, then they have to go be human beings the rest of it. They should all look up to David in that regard. That’s why we’re doing this today.”
At the end of it all, it still stings for Wright. He’ll never play again. “I can’t sit here and tell you I’m good with where I’m at right now. That would be a lie. It would be false,” he said. “You love something so much and you want to continue that. I got a little taste of that, and I’m already feeling it physically. I’m at peace with the work and the time and the effort and the dedication I put into this. But I’m certainly not at peace with the end result.”