PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla.
David Wright showed up Monday for the next chapter of his baseball life dressed in a striped Tiger Woods golf shirt and navy blue slacks.
No cap, no cleats, no locker with the No. 5 inside waiting for him.
“It’s good . . . It’s weird,” Wright said, smiling. “That was the biggest decision I had to make today. I was like, what do I wear? I’m just so used to coming in and changing into a uniform.”
Those days are over. Wright did that for the last time on Sept. 29 at Citi Field, the night of his emotional farewell, the tearful culmination of a 14-year career ended prematurely by chronic, unrelenting back issues.
Despite his physical limitations, Wright soon realized he wasn’t ready to say goodbye to the game entirely, and Brodie Van Wagenen — hired as the Mets’ general manager in November — didn’t want that either. Recruiting Wright to stay on as a special adviser felt only natural for a relationship that really had to live on. It just didn’t seem fair that Wright, at age 36, with so much unfinished business between the lines, would be relegated to civilian life on the West Coast.
The Mets didn’t hand out Wright’s No. 5 this season, and the expectation is that it someday will hang beside the team’s other retired numbers at Citi Field. A source said that’s not likely to happen this year, with the season dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the ’69 Miracle Mets and a possible statue for Tom Seaver.
At the moment, consider this role a mutually beneficial reunion for the Mets and Wright. The club has added Wright’s inside perspective as a seven-time All-Star not even a year removed from active duty. As for Wright, he gets to be as close to the game as his back problems will allow and has a chance to operate in a front-office world that he never saw as a field employee.
“I definitely miss playing the game,” he said. “I don’t miss the physical aspect of it. I miss talking the game, I miss performing, I miss the big at-bat with runners in scoring position, I miss that feeling. But then I look at Jake and Noah out there throwing. It looks pretty firm coming in.”
Wright watched Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard pitch Monday from a safer distance, perched at the railing of the observation tower with Van Wagenen. The plan is for him to stay the week in Port St. Lucie, work with some of the third basemen and sit in with the front-office staff during their daily organizational meetings.
When Van Wagenen first spoke with Wright about the role, the former captain wasn’t sure what the job would entail, but he was immediately sucked in by the whirlwind of activity at the winter meetings in Las Vegas in December.
It was Wright’s first experience in that hyperactive environment, and seeing Van Wagenen’s cabinet operate made the situation all the more attractive.
“It was just non-stop,” Wright said. “Running through the lobby, Brodie grabbing a coffee and a donut for lunch. I would say that Brodie is excellent at coming up with a Plan A, B and C, and if A didn’t work out, right on to B. He always had a contingency plan on everything.
"I really respected that and just the preparation. And his passion for the game and the players. When he says he’s players-first, he’s players-first. And I think the guys in there appreciate that.”
He laughed when describing his texts and phone calls with Van Wagenen over the winter, with the GM being so revved up that Wright had to cut him off to pick up his daughter at preschool. That kept Wright connected to the Mets, in between his daily maintenance at the gym for the neck and back issues that still are with him always. Being away from the sport’s interminable grind has helped him physically, but Wright sounded as if he needed to come back.
“I enjoy the game — I really do,” he said. “Not just watching but being behind the scenes, seeing what kind of goes on. Still spending a lot of time with my family, but getting the opportunity to keep my feet in the door with the game and just be a part of something — especially this organization. It meant a lot to me.”
Expect Wright’s return to be meaningful for the Mets as well.