PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — Time and time again, David Wright has sacrificed his body in the name of baseball.
When he was healthy, he would whip it into submission and field balls without fear of walls, bat shards or really much of anything. And after he was hurt, he underwent three surgeries just for a chance to get back on the field: first on his neck, then on his shoulder and finally on his back — enough that, for a time, he might’ve had more seams than an actual baseball.
So no, he’s not ready to give up now. Not yet, at least.
Wright, 35, who reported early for spring training despite being unable to resume baseball activities yet, said Saturday that he will do everything in his power to return to the sport. But the Mets’ franchise third baseman realizes that his various injuries and subsequent surgeries might mean he will have to retire.
Wright gave no timetable for his return, although he would like to come back this year. He hasn’t played in a game since May 2016.
“When it’s all said and done, I want me to be able to say I did everything I could,” he said. “If it works, that’s obviously the goal. If it doesn’t work, I’ll rest easy knowing that I gave it my best shot.”
No one can accuse Wright of taking the easy way out. He suffers from spinal stenosis — a narrowing of the spaces in the spine, which compresses the nerves — but said that’s something of a broad term. His back surgery in October, performed a month after his shoulder surgery, was supposed to alleviate the pain, but when doctors went in, they also had to ease the effects of a slew of ailments that were leading to nerve compression: a herniated disc, bone spurs and a bad ligament.
While he rehabbed, the Mets signed Todd Frazier to a two-year, $17-million deal, a tacit acknowledgment that perhaps Wright never will return to the game. He will make $20 million this year, but if he doesn’t play, about $15 million of that will come back to the Mets via his insurance policy.
“They’ve got to do certainly what’s best for them,” said Wright, adding that chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon called him after they signed Frazier. “I don’t blame them one bit . . . The way that I’ve been treated has been more than fair, probably more than I deserve.”
His dream is to come back and add to the Mets’ depth, be a true part of the team. He said that because he isn’t able to participate, he feels a little distant. But manager Mickey Callaway said he wants Wright as involved as possible from the beginning.
“I think it’s essential to what we’re trying to do,” Callaway said. “I told him, ‘David — not to interfere with anything that you’re trying to do to get back on the field — but I want you as present as possible. I want you to be around the guys. If you can be on the field watching a drill, I want you to be there.’ We need his leadership.”
“I would think everybody in baseball is rooting for David Wright to come back.”
Wright said he’s doing strength training but has yet to resume running, though he and the trainers are consistently ramping up what he does in his rehab. He’s almost back to his playing weight, but a gentler offseason regimen means he’s lost some muscle mass. He said that if his health allows it, he’s confident that he can get up to speed and be major league-ready despite not playing for two years.
Wright can go through all of his rehab exercises — he alternates between the back and the shoulder — but said live baseball will be a completely different hurdle.
“[Rehab exercise is] not anything close to when you get out there in this environment where it’s not controlled and when you have to reach and extend [a] swing, check swing, run, and do all these things that could tweak one or another,” he said. “The true test is when you take me out of that controlled environment.”
Mentally, the process can be draining. Once so adamant that he would find a way back, he has had to learn to entertain the bleak voices that say it might not be possible.
“Every day I’m reminded when I come in and see everybody else get in uniform and go out there and do things I love to do and I’m stuck in a training room doing rehab stuff,” he said. “It would be easier if I didn’t have a passion for what I do . . . But [retirement] is a decision every athlete wants to make where they get to make that decision. You don’t want your body making that decision for you.”
For now, Wright isn’t allowing his body to make that call. He’ll continue to sacrifice it to baseball, as he has for most of his life. If it doesn’t work out, he’ll at least know he did everything he could have done.
What does the future hold? “I don’t know,” he said. “When you’re used to doing something your entire life and it’s kind of taken away from you, it’s definitely frustrating . . . I’d love to play again, but my body’s got to hold up and it’s gonna have to cooperate with me a little bit.
“I’m going to give it my best shot.”
August 15, 2009 - Suffered a concussion after being hit in the head by a pitch.
May 16, 2011 - Was announced Wright had a stress fracture in his lower back that forced him to miss two months.
April 11, 2012 - Fractured his right pinkie while diving into first base on a pick-off attempt, missed three games.
August 3, 2013 - Was placed on the 15-day DL with a strained right hamstring.
Eary 2014 - Suffered a left rotator cuff contusion which limited him to 134 games on the season.
April 14, 2015 - Suffered a strained right hamstring and was placed on the 15-day DL.
July 24, 2015 - Was placed on the 60-day DL after being diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
June 3, 2016 - Placed on the disabled list due to a herniated disk in his neck and underwent neck surgery on June 16.
Spring training 2017 - Was diagnosed with a right shoulder impingement.
September 5, 2017 - Underwent rotator cuff surgery on his right shoulder.
October 5, 2017 - Underwent lower back surgery to relieve pressure in his back.