On the heels of a restful offseason and a limited early spring schedule, Wright marched out to the back fields shortly after noon on Monday to begin his pregame stretching routine, with physical therapist John Zajac hovering over him all the while. Wright eventually meandered over to one of the dugouts, where Viola, Long, Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and catcher Travis d'Arnaud -- the latter two among a group of interested spectators -- waited. Then Wright took his turn leading off every inning of a Minor League intrasquad game, finishing 1-for-5 with a single and a strikeout.
• Spring Training: Schedule | Tickets | Gear
On a day that many of Wright's teammates squeezed into a chartered coach for a five-hour round-trip bus ride to Lakeland to take on the Tigers (they lost, 9-2), Wright stayed back so the Mets could better dictate the conditions surrounding his return. Monday, that took the form of bending the rules of a Minor League intrasquad game. Yet in one way or another, the Mets have been making a special case out of Wright all spring, personalizing every detail of his daily, weekly and monthly schedule as he hopes to put together his first healthy season in four years.
Not long after the third baseman arrived in Port St. Lucie, and about eight months after doctors first diagnosed him with spinal stenosis, he met with manager Terry Collins to draw up that plan. Because Wright had spent more time than usual resting this winter in an effort to ease the stress off his back, the two -- with input from Zajac, trainer Ray Ramirez and others -- decided to delay Wright's return to game action until mid-month.
But over the next three weeks, things are slated to progress more rapidly, with Wright scheduled to take live batting practice Tuesday and appear in a Grapefruit League game as soon as Thursday. Despite the slow start, Wright fully intends to be in the starting lineup April 3 for Opening Night in Kansas City, playing third base.
"This was exactly what we discussed before camp even started," he said. "We're exactly right on schedule."
Yet until Wright trots out from the visitors' dugout at Kauffman Stadium, doubt will exist. Until he proves he can produce offensively at age 33, skeptics will remain. Until he shows he is capable of playing third base at a Major League level, questions will linger. Wright understands all of it, admitting that the toughest part of his elongated routine is not the physical progress itself. It's mentally coming to terms with the fact that this is "not an injury -- it's a condition."
"I'm not going to wake up one day and it's going to be cured," Wright said. "This is a gradual process. At-bats were first. I'm sure sometime soon I'm going to get out in the field and gradually work my way up there, just like every other player in spring."
Just like every other player. For Wright, this spring, it's an ideal worth pursuing.