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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Outpouring of love for David Wright from 43,000 hearts

David Wright poses with his family during pregame

David Wright poses with his family during pregame festivities on Saturday night, Sept. 29, 2018 at Citi Field. From right: David Wright, daughter Madison, 4 months, wife Molly, and daughter Olivia, 2. Credit: Newsday/William Perlman

In the end, David Wright got what he deserved.

The Mets’ captain, on the final night of his 14-year tenure in Flushing, got one of the largest crowds (43,928) in Citi Field’s history to show up specifically to see him play one more time. He got thousands of seats filled with No. 5 jerseys, holding up signs, cheering his every movement.

Wright got his 2-year-old daughter, Olivia Shea, to throw him the first pitch as he crouched behind the plate. (“I was pretty sure that had about a 10 percent chance of happening,” he joked later.) He got to share the field with his wife, Molly, along with his parents, as they soaked in the adoration.

The only homegrown Mets star to finish his career with the franchise got to trot to third base by himself to open Saturday night’s game, followed by close friend Jose Reyes, as the two played beside each other for the first time since 2011 — in Game No. 878 together, a club record.

Wright also got two plate appearances (a walk and a foul pop) and smiled broadly after scooping up a ground ball, then firing it over to first base to finish the second inning. In the top of the fourth, he got to be called off the field for a farewell standing ovation, hugs from all his teammates at the dugout rail and another curtain call.

And because Wright is a Met, above all else, he got to wait more than 4 hours for the finish of a 1-0, 13-inning win over Miami before taking the microphone to address the fans who stuck with him at about 11:45 p.m.

“I’m all out of tears, but this is love,” Wright told them. “I can’t say anything else — this is love.”

On a night Wright described as “surreal” and “awesome,” he got the dream he imagined — or as close to the best possible version. And how many of us are lucky enough to get that?

You can focus on the fact that Wright’s career was sadly cut short far too soon, the back injuries an unfortunate series of violent accidents, and that is as much a part of his Mets legacy as the 1,777 hits and 242 home runs. But that is only half of what made Wright so beloved among everyone who knew him, watched him or shared a clubhouse with him. And most would suggest that was the lesser half, because Wright transcended those numbers, growing into a presence that had the ability to outshine the dark days.

“No. 1, David is a special person,” said Michael Cuddyer, a fellow Virginia Beach native who was friendly with Wright before they played together on the Mets. “For me, it’s his authenticity. Being who you are all the time, and that’s what David is. As far as wearing a Mets uniform his whole career, he’s the best that’s ever done it.”

If Wright had managed to stay healthy, Cooperstown was his likely destination. He made it to only one World Series, the failed 2015 trip, and also endured that painful NLCS loss in 2006, followed by two late-season collapses the next two years.

Against that backdrop, Wright developed into a tragic hero, the eternally boyish All-Star cursed with a broken body that betrayed his youthful appearance. When three surgeries to repair his back, shoulder and neck issues limited him to 75 games during the past four seasons, Wright’s fate was almost certain. There would be no resumption of his career, only a conclusion. But that was enough motivation to somehow propel him toward Citi Field for Saturday night.

“It shows a lot of character, a guy that’s not going to give up on it,” said Marlins manager Don Mattingly, the former Yankees captain whose own career was ended by back woes. “He keeps fighting and fighting. I think it tells you a lot about him as a person and what he wanted to do.”

For years, Wright existed in a state of perpetual rehab. There was a time he showed up after a recent neck surgery wearing an immobilizing brace, looking painfully thin, his muscle tone wasted away from a liquid diet and the inability to exercise. Wright looked as far from playing for the Mets again as you or I. But the dream persisted, and the same drive, the same character, that transformed him into a seven-time All-Star made Saturday night possible, too.

Returning to Citi, however, also required an acceptance of his fate, and that’s not something easily done for a 35-year-old who’s spent his life playing a kid’s game. During the past few months, Wright gutted his way through rehab stops in Port St. Lucie and Las Vegas, spending hours to prepare before suffering through each inning.

The temptation to quit must have been overwhelming. All that for another few swings with the Mets? Could it really be worth the daily anguish?

It didn’t take long for Wright to get his answer when he pulled into the players’ parking lot Saturday afternoon.

“Coming to the ballpark, I didn’t know what to expect,” Wright said. “Then there were five or six dozen fans waiting. That’s when it hit me — this was going to be an awesome night.”

Wright never did what he did begrudgingly, or out of some forced obligation. He was the Mets’ captain for a reason, and that was displayed both on and off the field. Wright was Employee No. 5, the lunch-pail third baseman and three hitter who never ducked the spotlight no matter how intense the heat. People recognize that and respect it.

“He’s a true professional,” said Jacob deGrom, whose same approach should earn him a Cy Young Award this year. “I’m sad to see him go. He’s been the best teammate I’ve ever had.”

Thinking of Wright in the past tense is when the heartbreak comes for such a cherished member of the franchise to be finished too soon. But seeing how happy he was again, just to be kicking the bat on his way to the plate as the Beastie Boys’ “Brass Monkey” blared throughout the stadium, suggested that this was a lasting salve for a wounded baseball soul.

“I can’t sit here and tell you I’m good with where I’m at right now,” Wright said later in the packed conference room. “That would be a lie. But it was a wonderful night. It’s something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

His love for the game is genuine, just as it is for the Mets and the seemingly countless number of smitten fans who follow this often bewildering team. That love was returned to Wright on Saturday night, an outpouring of emotional support and unconditional affection that both he and his family were showered with.

“I live and die with this team,” Wright said. “I think that’s what made the connection between the fans and me so strong.”

That bond was never more on display than Saturday night, when Wright was able to bask in the full rock-star treatment like Bono or Mick Jagger or Jay-Z. The stage was his. And he deserved nothing less.

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