PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
Sitting on the dugout bench, dressed in a Mets hoodie and shorts, David Wright could have been any player getting ready for Thursday’s game against the Marlins. But Wright, now sidelined indefinitely with shoulder weakness, only looks the part.
After this latest setback, you have to wonder what Wright really thinks when the cameras are off and the notepads are put away. The physical discomfort must be nothing compared to the heartache of not being able to play with his teammates, or to perform at a level that only a select few on the planet can attain.
At times like these, with Wright playing a total of only 75 games in the past two seasons and seemingly headed back to the disabled list for this Opening Day, it’s convenient for some on the outside to discard the captain as a $67-million liability, a ticket for an insurance claim. A hobbled relic from a bygone era in Flushing.
Wright, through it all, hasn’t so much as flinched in the public eye regardless of how many jabs and uppercuts he’s absorbed. Until Thursday, that is, when we may have detected the slightest glimmer of doubt in his words, a little more hedging in his comments. For the first time, the conversation was peppered with “ifs” and “shoulds”.
Is it possible that Wright, after two more trips to the doctor’s office this week, was feeling somewhat less certain about this comeback? Did he underestimate the fallout from the invasive June procedure to repair the herniated disc?
“I certainly wasn’t expecting problems to come with it,” Wright said. “I guess you’d be a little naive to think everything was going to be smooth sailing after major neck surgery.”
We can’t tell if these problems are merely hurdles, or bricks being stacked on top of each other to form a wall. Wright’s rehab has now stretched into its ninth month, and he is through giving estimates, which signals sort of a powerlessness to the whole ordeal.
Remember, this doesn’t end until the doctors say it’s over. Wright’s being medically unable to finish his contract, which runs through 2020, is the only way everyone gets their money — or in the Mets’ case, 75 percent of their payout to him. But Wright said he’s been told that playing again is not out of the question. It just felt a bit distant while listening to him Thursday. And he was in no position to offer any guarantees.
“Obviously, nobody’s a fortune teller,” Wright said. “The diagnosis is if we do the program that has been looked at by two great doctors, and two great physical therapists combined with our physical therapists. If I can complete that, and do everything that’s asked of me, then yeah, I should be back to being able to throw like normal.”
It was alarming to hear Wright admit he was in pain from the very start of his throwing program, which was conducted under wraps and consisted of only a few sessions. Sandy Alderson said Tuesday that Wright would need roughly two weeks to resume his regular rehab course, but the captain would not commit to that Thursday. He spoke of “aggressive” therapy to re-engage the shoulder muscles that apparently withered from the neck surgery. It’s hoped that that will put him back on course. Again, no promises.
“He’s going to fight the fight,” Terry Collins said. “He’s a grinder — always has been, always will be.”
No one doubts that. But Wright came to spring training with the goal of working himself back into baseball shape. Instead, his primary mission has become getting his shoulder functioning again, which is not all that different from what Wright has been dealing with ever since he was diagnosed with spinal stenosis.
How long can he try to hold back the dismal tide?
“The easy answer to that is, I still enjoy what I do,” he said. “I love taking the field. And if I can do this rehab, and put in the time to get back on the field, and do what I love doing, then it’s well worth it in my mind.”
The will is definitely there. Now Wright must see if the body is up to the task.