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David Wright, the man nicknamed “Captain America” by the Mets has finally succumbed to his injuries. His is a grating, but needed farewell.
I sit here with tears streaming down my cheeks as David Wright trots off the field, with tears in his.
I look up at a photo in my den. It is from an August afternoon 14 years ago at Shea Stadium, and it shows me smiling with my New York Mets hat on, the white one commemorating the 1986 World Series championship. Next to me in the photo, youth captured in a frame, are my daughters, ages seven and four at the time, also smiling and wearing their Mets caps with pride.
The Mets lost that day to the Dodgers. They’ve lost far many more than they’ve won in my lifetime. That’s okay, though.
I still remember that 2004 game – sweating through my T-shirt on one of those brutally hot Long Island Saturdays. We (okay, it was just me, but my little girls were always up for an adventure with Dad back then) wanted to see firsthand the new Mets rookie, David Wright.
David didn’t get any hits that day, but over the next 14 years until about ten minutes ago, he supplied me, my family and all Mets fans with lots of happy memories. It’s all about the moments, isn’t it? When some unexpected event sends us hurtling back to a time forgotten. Happy, stressful, memorable, mundane, sad – moments strung together in time, capturing a piece of my life.
Why am I actually crying? David Wright seems like a genuinely good guy, even in today’s over-scrutinised world of social media and staged personas. And most who know him, have played with him and covered him in the press, agree that he’s truly one of the good ones. That’s only part of why I shed tears.
Down the hall in my office is a baseball David signed for me. I wasn’t there to see him sign it that day at Shea Stadium in 2008. A coworker who knew I loved the Mets asked him for it, and Wright obliged, even asking if he wanted the autograph personalised for me. Thoughtful. More than that, he forged connections with the fans and with an entire city. He got it. He gave a shit.
He left the telecast today with a simple statement: “When I’m around Mets fans, when I’m around the orange and blue, it’s like I’m at home.”
And that’s not why I’m crying either. The Mets, the franchise I’ve adored since I first discovered baseball back in 1970, will find a way to mess up even the smallest of details. And I love them anyway, because they do represent home, my family.
And to give the Mets credit, they got it right today, starting with the beginning of the broadcast, when David’s wife and daughters walked onto the field, along with David’s mother and father. His oldest daughter would throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Her head swivelled back and forth, displaying the wide-eyed toddler bewilderment of an age when all is sparkling and special. She had never seen her dad on the field before. David was her catcher, smiling with the unabashed joy of a dad in love with his little girl. Open the floodgates. Not enough Kleenex in the house. A priceless moment that was as authentic as the look of wonder on that little girl’s face.
Boy, did I need these last 90 minutes to just think about the good that is the game of baseball. Not advanced stats or, god forbid, the steroid era or designated hitter debates or even AstroTurf, but the sense of innocence and optimism that made the grand game our national pastime over a hundred years ago.
It took a good man taking the field one last time, family in tow, aching back along for the ride, to allow me to hit the pause button and just feel for a while.
Today, what we saw were teammates exuding mutual respect, a man who worked so hard, suffering setbacks and returns to the surgeon’s knife, exhaustive rehabilitation, all just to get back on the field. And make it back he did – just not in the way he had scripted it in his mind during his arduous, two-year climb back from devastating injury. It would only be for this one game, and only so he could say farewell.
I’ve always felt you learn more about a person when you see them endure the hard times. David Wright’s tears today, as he touched his hand to his heart and waved to his fans, walking from the field for the final time, forged that connection yet again. It wasn’t his storybook ending. Far from it. And I’m sure as that fact became apparent to him on the dark final days of his comeback, he even uttered a few “why me’s”. But then he did what we are all forced to do when one of life’s fastballs beans us on the shoulder. He rubbed some dirt on it and kept moving forward on his uncertain path, accepting it, making the most of it.
I needed this. I needed a break from FBI investigations into poseurs who aspire to be on the highest court in the land. From Facebook posts snarking from each side of the political aisle at the other. From arguments about walls and guns, from senseless attacks committed by humans against humans. From stories of children suffering and families torn apart. Hell, I even need a break from Tiger Woods and the Ryder Cup.
And for 90 minutes I got that break, and a hell of a lot more. What I really got was a sliver of my youth and innocence back, if only for one of those frozen moments.
I was still an invincible thirty-something that August afternoon at Shea Stadium in 2004. Now, David Wright is the thirty-something. Today, one of my daughters who cheered with me way-back-then is older than David was as a rookie third baseman that scorching afternoon.
Boy, did I need these last 90 minutes to just think about the good that is the game of baseball.
I blinked and those 14 seasons flew by. Report cards, dance recitals, graduations, little league, beloved pets, vacations, fear, cross-country moves, anger, hugs, a game of catch in the front yard – all creases etched upon my ageing brain at once refreshed and flooding back, overwhelming me as I sat on the edge of my seat. My palms moist with apprehension, I wasn’t praying for David Wright to hit a home run like in the movies, but merely to escape the game without injury, error, or embarrassing incident. I simply wanted him to survive.
And he did. With dignity and class intact and on full display until that final skip down the dugout steps and out of sight into the clubhouse.
Maybe that’s why I’m still crying, a solid half hour after he left the game, as I hear the Citi Field (they knocked down Shea Stadium ten years ago, but I didn’t cry that day) crowd chant, “Thank you, Da-vid, Thank you, Da-vid.”
David survived and leaves us all joining him in teary appreciation. We are one in cherishing all that’s happened over the span of his incredible career, and whether it be the toughest SOB on the South Shore of Long Island, or my mother in Jersey, we shed these tears with pride and with hope. Pride for all that we’ve come through together, and hope that despite all the roadblocks along the way, we are still putting that next foot in front of the other.
These are tears of joy, about a slice of life that contained way more good than bad, all to the timeless background music of a ballgame on the radio. Cue legendary Mets announcer Bob Murphy from somewhere up in the hereafter for one of his patented Happy Recaps. (Mets fans know exactly what this means.)
Thank you, David. For reminding me of a time I don’t often think of as I race through a bunch of busy todays. There’s been a lot of special these last 14 years, and it took a good man taking the field one last time, family in tow, aching back along for the ride, to allow me to hit the pause button and just feel for a while.
For a moment.