NEW YORK -- Two hundred eighteen thousand, three hundred ninety-five fans packed into Citi Field for six games on the Mets' most recent homestand against the Red Sox and Phillies. That meant 218,395 bits of nostalgia for David Wright.
Over the past seven years, Wright has often referenced the 2006-08 seasons as benchmarks for what he hoped to see again at Citi. Nothing could have prepared him for what he experienced as a 23-year-old down the stretch in '06, back when 218,395-fan homestands were customary. Then again, Wright admits now that nothing could have prepared him for what he experienced afterward, either: consecutive collapses followed by six straight losing seasons. And that was just for the team. For Wright, that stretch coincided with serious injury after serious injury, culminating in this year's spinal stenosis diagnosis.
After four months away from the team, watching on television as the Mets transformed into contenders, Wright finally returned last Monday in Philadelphia. He spent the ensuing homestand marveling at the 218,395 fans who packed Citi Field during U.S. Open week, always a festive time around Flushing Meadows.
"We haven't experienced that here at Citi Field," Wright said Wednesday, dipping down into a clubhouse tunnel to escape the cacophony of batting practice. "It was few and far between, that type of electricity in the building. Maybe the inaugural season [in 2009], you had a couple games early on where the place was packed. The All-Star Game. But as far as these types of crowds -- how rowdy they are, how loud they are, how into the game they are on a consistent basis -- not even close to [that] since the building's opened. It definitely reminds me of '06, '07, '08, those years."
If the Mets continue winning, bigger crowds will continue to arrive. Louder crowds will continue to buzz. More spirited crowds will continue to tumble out of subway cars, down the steps at Willets Point, past the Shea Stadium home run apple -- a tangible reminder of past accomplishments -- and into Citi Field's welcoming gates. The Mets announced their playoff ticket lottery on Wednesday. It's getting real now.
These are the types of things for which Wright has waited, through all the losing seasons and the injuries and the myriad frustrations.
"You can just tell how pumped up the fans are, the energy that they bring, and I think that rubs off on players," Wright said. "You hope to try to take it to the next level on the field, because you feed off that energy."
During Spring Training, the Mets' longest-tenured player dismissed a question about possibly being an older, diminished one by the time the Mets became ready to compete. Perhaps his optimism was well-founded; despite missing more than four months this season, Wright is batting .324 in eight games since his return. Though he is not starting at third base every day, Wright is appearing in far more games than not. Come playoff time, when the Mets will never play more than three in a row, there should be no reason for him to sit out any games at all.
"I guess you would say from what I have heard about the injury and what he had to go through, I'm pretty impressed with the way he's come out of it," manager Terry Collins said. "He's played ... a lot better than people anticipated he would."
Wright feeds off the energy of 218,395 and the millions of others that they represent. In the team hotel in Philadelphia last week, well-wishers were omnipresent. On the sidewalk outside Wright's Manhattan apartment, fans tell him how excited they are about the Mets -- now 6 1/2 games ahead in first place with 29 to go.
"You can just see when they speak, there's a different type of intensity," Wright said, some of those 218,395 filtering in from the concourse above him. "There's a different type of excitement in their voice that we just haven't had."