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David Wright makes it his business to give back

David Wright with Brandon Kemp. (2013)

David Wright with Brandon Kemp. (2013) Credit: Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The thought of David Wright's allegiance to the Mets through thick and thin, with an awful lot of the latter, is perfectly logical to Brandon Kemp. Kemp has learned that loyalty runs deeply in Wright's Virginia blood all the time.

Wright's feelings for his hometown have him working out for a part of every winter near his old high school in Chesapeake and holding a charity event for a local children's hospital that never asks who's paying for someone's treatment. It has Wright visiting patients such as Kemp, 19, whose sickle cell anemia has had him in and out of the hospital since his family moved here from Amityville when he was 2.

"It's pretty cool, seeing somebody from such a laid-back state becoming a major athlete for the New York Mets," said Kemp, whose condition flared after he graduated from Landstown High School last year and who now is an in-patient again. "It's refreshing to see someone who has all that money and still has the morals that his parents instilled in him. You still know what's in his heart.

"He's on the top end of athletes who are inspiring," Kemp said, recalling how he was in Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters in Norfolk last January, too, and was sitting off to the side while Wright was talking to younger kids. Wright approached him and, ever the captain, gave him the kind of pep talk he would give Ike Davis after an 0-for-4.

"He just told me to keep my head up, don't look down on things. Take it as a learning experience and help others to learn from it," Kemp said from his room hours before the fourth annual David Wright Vegas Night at the Virginia Beach Convention Center -- a major fund-raiser for an institution that needs all the funding it can get.

Karen Gershman, the hospital's executive director of development, said the facility is the only free-standing children's hospital in the state. It treats patients who have resources and many who do not. "We take care of a disproportionate amount of the underserved," she said.

Wright began showing up there long before he signed an eight-year, $138-million contract. "When he comes to visit, he really comes to visit. He makes one-on-one time. He makes everyone feel special," Gershman said, adding that it is easy to trace the roots of those visits: "Obviously, he lives in New York, but he's still very loyal. He feels a sense of commitment to his hometown."

Said Wright, "Although 'home-home' is in Florida now, I try to come back here as often as possible. I hit with a college coach here, I have a trainer whom I've used since I was 18 years old.

"I'm proud to be from here," he said, mentioning his buddies who grew up near him and also made it to the big leagues: National League batting champion Michael Cuddyer (who was at the Vegas Night on Friday), B.J. and Justin Upton, Ryan Zimmerman.

Wright is just as proud to be from Citi Field. Rhon and Elisa Wright did not raise four sons to base their allegiances on league standings. The oldest, who rubbed elbows Friday night with people who remember him from Little League and Hickory High School, is a Met through and through.

"I have an attachment to this organization. I understand what the goal is. I understand that there's a process. That's what I want," he said, knowing he will be heading to camp this week -- about two weeks early -- to do a fundraiser for a St. Lucie Mets staffer who has cancer.

Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon flew down here for the hospital fundraiser Friday, as did general manager Sandy Alderson and his assistant, John Ricco. Loyalty flows both ways.

"One of the reasons he is such a revered player and teammate and representative of the franchise is that he has those qualities that go beyond his talent as a player," Alderson said. "His sense of responsibility, his loyalty . . . This event is one example. You want to sign players who want to do those things."

There might have been a whisper or two in December 2012, when Wright re-signed, that he actually was taking an easy way out, that he was avoiding the pressures of playing for titles.

Down here, though, it is hard for people to imagine that a man who looks sick children in the eyes and encourages them to keep trying would shirk a challenge.

Kemp, for one, said his own health has "been a roller-coaster ride" but that he is on an upswing now. In previous summers, he has visited his grandmother on Long Island, gone to Mets games and rooted for the Virginian whose team has had its downswings.

If he were in the clubhouse, Kemp said, "Honestly, I would tell him, 'Don't get down on yourself. Take it as a learning experience to help you prepare for the next game. You're still a winner in your fans' eyes.' "

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