|Eight years into his career -- all with the Mets, David Wright has become the clubhouse leader. (Getty Images)|
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- So you figure David Wright must wake up each morning, lift his weary head off of his pillow and think to himself "This is the day when things are going to turn around and I'm going to get a break."
"Me?" Wright said, looking surprised, as if the Mets were the height of normalcy, CitiField hadn't deflated his home run totals and he hadn't missed much of this spring with a strained abdominal muscle. "Personally?
"I've been given a huge break, are you kidding me? I've been given a chance to play baseball for a living and, knock on wood, be relatively healthy throughout my career so far.
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"I wake up each morning and there are not too many people who get a chance to do what I do for a living. And I'm reminded of that every day, too. My mom works in the school system [in Chesapeake, Va.], my dad's a police officer and two of my brothers work and my other one is still in college.
"I'm reminded every day how lucky I am."
If you're feeling down about your lot in life, talk to Wright. One of baseball's best ambassadors, the guy is Mr. Positive. He could find a way to make Oliver Perez's Mets numbers look Cy Young-worthy.
Eight years into his major-league career, Wright is the face of his franchise.
It's just the wrong franchise of which to be the face.
"David's an interesting guy because he handles everything so well," outfielder Jason Bay said. "Sometimes it's very hard to get a good read on how he really feels."
From being close enough to reach out and touch the World Series in 2006 to now, it's as if Wright and the Mets fell through some wild and mysterious trap door with no bottom in sight.
From the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme in which the Wilpons became entangled to the two months Wright missed last summer with a stress fracture in his lower back, it's as if they're trapped in a nightmare that will never end.
"Obviously when you don't have success as a team, and especially when you come up through the system and have attachment to this organization and you have the kind of years we've had, of course that's frustrating," said Wright, the Mets' first-round pick in 2001.
He explains that it "wears on you a little bit", as if the Mets have submarined through one or two mildly disappointing seasons instead of cratering through the subterranean depths to the point where they had no chance to keep Jose Reyes and the outlook is bleak for all of the immediate future.
All around him, the franchise has eroded.
"But I've experienced winning with this organization, too, and it's almost like that's the driving force to get you back to it," Wright said. "That one year when we were in the playoffs and were a couple of runs away from the World Series, it's addicting. It might be different if you've never experienced that.
"But once you experience it, you feel like you've got to get back there. There's no question we've taken steps backward since then, instead of where we thought we were going. And that was forward."
Still only 29, there is every chance Wright will be long gone by the time the Mets do turn things around (and feel free to insert your own old-age joke here).
Entering the final summer of a six-year, $55 million deal, Wright will be prime trade bait for a broke franchise if he does anything offensively in the first half of this season. And if he doesn't, odds are overwhelmingly against the Mets picking up his $16 million option for 2013. (If he is dealt, the option automatically goes away).
There were some rumors last winter that the Mets would trade him, but "we never got to the point where we had to make that decision," general manager Sandy Alderson said. "We didn't actively pursue a trade. We were never aggressively approached by anyone on a trade. That issue never arose in a concrete sense."
Alderson added: "From my standpoint, we're looking forward to David having a good year. He's been part of the New York Mets' fabric for a long time, and we hope he is for a long time in the future."
One of the few positive developments for the Mets this spring is that Wright's abdominal muscles seem to have calmed down. He flew to New York and received a cortisone shot in February, when there were concerns that he might miss significant time. But he's back in the lineup and cracked a grand slam on Thursday against Livan Hernandez (who the Astros promptly released).
"Having him in the lineup is huge," said first baseman Ike Davis, who played in only 36 games last summer while Wright made it to only 102. "He's our leader."
While trade rumors buzzed last winter and the looming Wilpon clawback trial was a big topic early in the spring, Wright just kept his head down, pushing forward, ignoring most everything. He says his parents long ago taught him to worry about only what he can control.
Now, with opening day just a few days away, it's finally back to his favorite part, the competing. CitiField has diluted his power -- when he hit 29 homers in 2010, 17 came on the road in 78 games and only 12 came at home, in 79 games -- and the Wilpon finances have diluted the Mets.
While they unquestionably will miss Reyes, Wright says, they can't worry about those no longer around.
"We've got a bunch of young, energetic guys," he said. "And I'm looking forward to seeing what everybody can bring to the table."
Within that, the Mets would love to see what a healthy Wright might be able to do over 162 games -- or close to it.
"We've got a number of players in that category, and he's chief among them," Alderson said. "Johan Santana is coming back, and we need a big contribution from him. Ike Davis missed almost all of last year.
"If those guys make any sort of contribution at all, we should be better than people expect."
That's the way their five-time All-Star third baseman figures it, too. You were wondering if maybe he was hoping to be traded? Or asking for it?
Hey, it's the Mets who need bailing out. Not Wright.
"I've always taken some pride in being loyal," he said. "And this organization has done a lot for me. They drafted me as a high school player, they developed me, they've paid me a lot of money to go out there and play baseball. I'll always be thankful for that.
"It would be very sweet to go through everything we've gone through so far, the ups and downs, and get this thing turned around and headed in the right direction. And ultimately see both ends of that spectrum, really see where it's the bad and the ugly, and finish where we've turned things all around.
"That's the goal."