David Wright’s place in the heart of the Mets is no simulation. It is, was and always will be completely real. And because of that, he deserves the right to play this year, even if it is only for one at-bat.
His brief simulated game at Citi Field on Saturday afternoon did not show much, other than his desire to make it back into real games. He hit a ball over the right-centerfield fence but also had a bunch of foul tips and swings-and-misses. Mostly, the event epitomized how much he means to the whole operation here. When he was at the plate to face live pitching, manager Mickey Callaway was playing third base, Jacob deGrom was at shortstop, Steven Matz was at second and Zack Wheeler was playing first. Jeff Wilpon and Omar Minaya were standing behind the cage.
Their presence and attentiveness were a salute to the captain and career-long Met, who knows he has “hurdles” to clear before the club allows him to participate in a game that counts. He has earned the right to play. The bet here is that the Mets ultimately will agree.
It does not take much to see under the surface and read between the lines. If Wright never is activated, the Mets get to save 75 percent of his salary because insurance will cover it. If he does play, the club is on the hook for the full prorated pay. So it does not take a lot of imagination to see dollar signs in executive John Ricco’s hemming and hawing about Wright’s medical fitness for a return. The situation sets up a potential test of wills between the team and arguably its most loyal player, and a contentious test at that.
When he was asked if he expects to play this year, Wright did not hesitate an instant in saying, “Yes.” Either he is a real dreamer or he knows something that we don’t. He is scheduled for another simulated game Tuesday and, more important, a meeting with Wilpon.
“The last thing that I want to portray is that there’s some sort of rift between the Mets and me. That’s false,” Wright said. “There has been communication. They know where I stand and I know where they stand. Communication, especially recently, has been fantastic and I look forward to meeting with Jeff in the coming days and formulating a game plan from here to the end of September.”
Wilpon seems to be in a conciliatory frame of mind. The Mets recently ended a feud with Ed Kranepool, inviting the career Met back to help him raise awareness in his search for a new kidney. The Mets also have had a distant relationship with Bud Harrelson, the only man to have been in uniform for both of their world championships. But on Saturday, an hour after Wright’s simulated game, Wilpon escorted Harrelson and his family into the clubhouse. “I’m home,” said the former shortstop, coach and manager, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
If Wright wants a curtain call that costs a couple million, so be it. Granted, it’s not my money, but it would be grossly unfair to tell him he cannot play now after he spent the summer in agonizing rehab just to give it one last shot.
Wright always stood up for the Mets when they were bad. When they were good, he made them better. Many of us remember when third basemen represented a running Mets gag because the team used so many of them (alphabetically, from Alfonzo to Zimmer, with the likes of Fregosi, Torre, Valentine in between). Wright turned that spot into a rock of stability.
“Everybody knows David by reputation when you’re playing in the league and it’s one of the best reputations I’ve ever heard about,” said Callaway, who played Wright’s position when the captain was batting Saturday. “He’s the guy you want. He’s the guy you want your franchise to be around and to be the head of that franchise. He’s one of the most top-notch individuals I’ve ever been around and I’m glad to at least be around him for a year.”
If the captain wants to play under Callaway for one game or one inning, let him. Wright has earned that right.