PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
David Wright spent Sunday morning under the microscope as he roamed the back lawns of Tradition Field. Every swing, every grounder, every step received extra scrutiny, from the media horde to the smallest kid in a Mets cap.
But Wright did keep one thing to himself. The team’s first full-squad workout of spring training also marked the first time Wright has thrown a baseball since the June surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. His throwing session was done in secret, away from prying eyes, where judgment would be limited to Wright and the training staff.
Terry Collins, who did not witness the milestone event, said Wright made about 30 throws at roughly 60 to 70 feet. Considering that bases are separated by 90 feet and the throw from third to first usually is longer than that, Sunday’s distance is hardly significant by major-league standards and gives the impression that Wright is taking this part of his rehab very, very slowly.
The verdict? Wright felt fine, if a little awkward.
“Hopefully it gets better each day,” he said. “You can’t regain everything from the last eight months in one day.”
Fortunately, the Mets don’t need him to play third base Monday. But the Grapefruit League kicks off Friday, and as distant as the April 3 opener against the Braves is, it’s not as if Sandy Alderson has five weeks to determine whether Wright can be a viable player on this team.
The general manager said Wright being ready for Opening Day is “realistic” but cautioned against looking too far into the future. That’s standard operating procedure, and where Wright is coming back from, playing a total of 75 games the past two seasons, it’s the only call.
“We have to see how it progresses over the next few weeks before we start making assumptions,” Alderson said. “We’re optimistic, but we have to see how things develop.”
The clock on Wright officially began Sunday, with Collins shadowing him during the entire workout. He stood behind the cage as Wright took swings, then accompanied him to the half-diamond for his solo infield practice — 25 grounders, no throws — and watched from a few steps away.
It’s difficult to draw many conclusions after the first day. Wright is 34, so he’s not going to display the same agility he did a decade ago. As for batting practice, he hit in the same group with Yoenis Cespedes, Jay Bruce and Curtis Granderson — a powerful trio who made his line drives look a bit softer by comparison.
Collins described Wright’s performance at the plate as a noticeable improvement. “At this time last year,” Collins said, “he could not have done what he did today.”
Back then, Wright and the Mets still were testing different protocols for managing his spinal stenosis, which was diagnosed almost two months into the 2015 season. One of the key components was rest. But this year, Wright is going to require more playing time to pass what amounts to a spring training audition. The challenge will be to see if his body can rebound sufficiently to take the field on a semi-regular basis. It’s also nothing new for him.
“It’s kind of been the same story for me the past couple of years,” Wright said. “But that’s life. That’s baseball.”
Only Wright knows how he truly feels. Around him, the Mets’ first day with all hands on deck was pretty much business as usual, with Wright still one of the bigger attractions. Fans lined the fences to get his autograph. One extended a photo of a cigar-smoking Wright from the 2006 playoffs. A number of them asked for selfies with the captain, and Wright agreed each time. More than a few asked about his back and wished him luck for the coming season.
Many probably had flashbacks seeing Wright joking with Jose Reyes behind the batting cage, a vision from 2011, the last season they played together. That was the same year Wright suffered a stress fracture in his back, a precursor to the career-threatening condition that plagues him now. As much as having Reyes around is a fond reminder for Wright of less complicated times, his presence is evidence of the team preparing for life without Wright.
And that is a real possibility. Some inside the Mets remain skeptical that Wright is capable of clearing this obstacle, to being anywhere close to the player he once was.
Day 1 was the first step toward finding out.