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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

New David Wright book details his pain, perseverance during end of his career

Mets third baseman David Wright looks up at

Mets third baseman David Wright looks up at fans after addressing the crowd after his last game at Citi Field on Sept. 29, 2018. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

I’ve always maintained that when it comes to the fans’ perspective on their most beloved athletes, you could chronicle what they had for breakfast every day and those behind-the-scenes details would be cherished more than any breathless description of a home run watched from their couch.

So with that in mind, I felt vindicated toward the end of David Wright’s just released memoir, "The Captain," — with Mets beat writer Anthony DiComo — as the seven-time All-Star describes the hours leading up to his farewell game at Citi Field in 2018.

Sure enough, Wright lays out his entire morning, from leaving his wife, Molly, and two daughters, Olivia and Madison, at their Upper East Side apartment to his pre-ballpark rituals: a toasted almond drip with a splash of almond milk from his favorite coffee shop and then a trip to his deli for "a honey turkey sandwich with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado and honey mustard."

You’ll have to read the book for the names of Wright’s favorite spots. I don’t want to serve up too many spoilers here. But consider that anecdote an appetizer of what Wright offers up in these pages, an inside glimpse into one of the most popular players in Mets history. Having covered Wright’s 13-year career myself — first as a beat writer, then later as a columnist — I can say that no one in the sport was more media-friendly. Still, Wright kept plenty out of the spotlight, and many of those previously blank spaces get filled in by his collaboration with DiComo.

Everyone already knows the ending, at least baseball-wise. Wright was on a clear Cooperstown trajectory before a fractured vertebrae — suffered on a freakish dive back into third base trying to tag Carlos Lee — spiraled into a series of back and neck injuries that prematurely cut short his career. But Wright consistently clings to the positives, the lessons learned, and that goes for the Mets’ star-crossed fortunes during his tenure as well.

"If the greatest thing to happen to me on a baseball field was to play in a World Series, then the worst thing was to lose it," Wright says about falling short to the Royals in 2015. ‘I found myself reflecting once again upon how rarely these opportunities occur. Throughout 2015, I had faced my own baseball mortality. My back injury forced me, whether I was ready to or not, to acknowledge that my years as a big-leaguer might be numbered. And I hadn’t accomplished what I’d set out to."

But that wasn’t entirely true. For Wright, just returning to the Mets that season, and contributing, was a minor miracle in itself. And despite the brilliance of Wright at the height of his baseball powers, from 2005 through 2013, the most compelling part of his story is the soul-testing struggle with spinal stenosis, a debilitating condition that remains with him for the rest of his life.

Wright’s perseverance in playing through pain, along with the gradual erosion of his All-Star talents, is heartbreaking stuff, even for those already familiar with the broader brushstrokes. Feeling like a shadow of himself against Class A minor-leaguers in Port St. Lucie and barely able to stand at third base during a Triple-A game in Las Vegas, his physical limitations started taking control.

"For the first time in my life, I wasn’t enjoying baseball games," Wright says. "I was surviving them, which wasn’t how I ever wanted to play. As I came to that realization, I finally became willing to admit that the pain was overwhelming me. I finally became willing to accept that I couldn’t continue."

Wright’s road back to Citi Field was littered with "dead-bug" exercises and countless other rehab regimens designed to squeeze whatever he could out of his declining back before reaching the expiration date. Those are the most inspirational passages of the book, and after reading about his childhood, with the examples provided by his parents, Elisa and Rhon, it’s obvious where Wright draws that strength from.

His formative years in baseball recall a simpler time — one of Wright’s favorite drills was trying to hit plastic lids from coffee cans and Cool Whip tubs with a broomstick. And only hardcore Wright historians probably remember that he signed a letter of intent to attend Georgia Tech (he had Yellow Jacket bedsheets) before the Mets selected him 38th overall in the 2001 draft.

From there, Wright’s on-field journey is well-documented, but there are little-known surprises along the way: Wright’s bus-ride karaoke sessions (mandated by the veterans) in front of a scowling Mike Piazza, his early fanboy reactions to meeting Derek Jeter, the close relationship with manager Willie Randolph. Did you know that Wright and Matt Harvey were spring-training neighbors in Port St. Lucie, often grilling out together, talking about baseball and life in general? Probably not.

Wright takes this occasion to pull back the curtain a little more, and just like during his playing days, he’s someone that people will never get enough of.

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