MILWAUKEE — David Wright, like many of his fellow ballplayers, is a man of routine. But this season, it’s the envy of none of them.
He spends his mornings in Manhattan at the Hospital for Special Surgery, rehabilitating his various back, shoulder and neck injuries. He spends his afternoons in Queens at Citi Field doing much of the same.
When the Mets are home, he sticks around at the ballpark, putting on his uniform and watching from the dugout — the captain relegated to cheerleader. When the Mets are away, it frees up his evenings to spend time with his family, including his newborn daughter.
That’s life for Wright. Sunday marks two years since his most recent major-league game — May 27, 2016 — but the third baseman hasn’t given up. Retirement is a vulgarity.
Wright, 35, is scheduled to visit with doctors by the end of the month to re-evaluate his condition after this two-month shutdown period from baseball activity. He still wants to play.
“You have to be very strong in your mind to be doing it that long,” said Jose Reyes, who has known Wright longer than anybody else in the Mets’ clubhouse. “Not every major-league player has that mentality, to go through what he’s been through and still come here with a good attitude.”
Wright declined an interview request through a team spokesman. Ownership and front-office representatives declined to comment, citing a respect for Wright as he tries to work his way back.
To hear his teammates tell it, though, Wright remains largely upbeat and positive — impressively so, perhaps surprisingly so, given all that has plagued him — around the Mets. That’s the same vibe he gave off when he last spoke at length about his physical status, in mid-March after another setback.
“I asked him the other day, he said he wants to come back. He’s trying, man,” Wilmer Flores said. “It’s tough to see — all the things that happened to him when he’s trying to come back.”
Said Reyes: “He’s been good. It’s amazing to see him walking around with a good attitude, the right attitude.”
Sunday is significant only because it’s the second anniversary of when Wright last played. Really, day No. 730 is no different from Nos. 729 or 731. But it does offer an opportunity to take stock of what has been a treacherous 24 months, with no solution in sight.
Neck surgery in June 2016. Shoulder surgery last September. Back surgery a month later. Amid it all, Wright has dealt with spinal stenosis, a narrowing of the spine that puts pressure on the nerves within it.
Those issues have combined to derail one of the best careers the Mets have ever seen — one that, in the eyes of some, was on a Hall of Fame track. A seven-time All-Star, Wright owns a career .296 average, .376 on-base percentage and .491 slugging percentage, plus 242 homers, 390 doubles and 970 RBIs.
“He was as good as it got, man,” Jay Bruce said.
Bruce’s Mets career helps puts Wright’s struggles in perspective. Teammates for parts of the past three seasons, they have never played in a game together. Bruce played in the 2016 All-Star Game as a Red, was traded to the Mets, went to the playoffs with the Mets, was traded to the Indians, was part of their 22-game winning streak, went to the playoffs with Cleveland, became a free agent and returned to the Mets — all since Wright last got into a game.
That brings a tinge of sadness to Bruce’s voice. When he was traded to the Mets in August 2016, Bruce considered being on the same team as Wright a highlight of leaving Cincinnati, the only organization he had known. As a young big-leaguer, he looked up to Wright, seeking out his advice on everything from restaurant recommendations to hitting slumps.
“This guy who has dealt with the biggest media market in the world pretty flawlessly over his career, both on and off the field,” Bruce said. “He’s very committed and really devoted to the New York Mets organization and his game. This is what he does. It’s got to be tough for him to not be able to take part in what we’re trying to do here and just be who he is, which is David Wright the third baseman.”
The doubts about whether Wright will play again are real. Knowing that, the Mets signed Todd Frazier to a two-year deal to play third.
Health aside, a two-year absence from the majors for any reason is nearly impossible to overcome. “If you miss one week, it’s hard to play at this level,” Reyes said.
Said Bruce: “It’s a long time. A lot of things change in two years, and I feel like [the game is] evolving at a very fast rate. And he’s getting older. So there’s a lot of challenges that come from being injured, period. But now, not being able to play and do things that you’ve done your whole life for an extended amount of time, it definitely poses some issues for him moving forward.”
Wright is under contract for $47 million from 2018-20, though the Mets recoup much of that through an insurance policy. Wright will be paid unless he retires.
What if it doesn’t happen? What if he can’t come back? Wright giving up is a topic nobody with the team dares approach publicly with any depth. Reyes indicated he and Wright have discussed it.
“Me and him, we’ve talked a little bit about it, but I don’t want to go too deep because I want to give Wright hope to come back and stuff. Who knows?” Reyes said. “At this point, for me, it’s hard to say. He says he feels better. I’m glad. Hopefully he can start to do baseball activities soon, and hopefully we can have him back on this ballclub. Because we need his attitude here.”
The David Wright who hasn’t played a major league game in two years is a far cry from the player who missed only 37 games from the day he joined the Mets on July 21, 2004, until. the end of the 2010 season. A look at his year-by-year attendance:
Played Missed Key injury
2004 69 0
2005 160 2
2006 154 8
2007 160 2
2008 160 2
2009 144 18
2010 157 5
2011 102 60 Lower back stress fracture
2012 156 6
2013 112 50 Right hamstring
2014 134 28 Left shoulder
2015 38 124 Spinal stenosis(SS)
2016 37 125 SS, herniated disc
2017 0 162 Shoulder impingement