Wright joins Mets, embraces 'cheerleader' role

Captain underwent season-ending neck surgery in late-June

Wright joins Mets, embraces 'cheerleader' role

NEW YORK -- David Wright wore a blue hooded sweatshirt emblazoned with Major League Baseball's postseason logo, the drawstring cinched tight to ward off early October's chill. In every way, he looked the part of any other player preparing for Wednesday's National League Wild Card Game against the Giants (ESPN, 8:09 p.m. ET/5:09 p.m. PT).

But Wright is not a healthy, contributing player, and he hasn't been since May. When the Mets clinched a postseason berth last Saturday in Philadelphia, Wright was at home in Southern California, watching with the perspective of a fan --- sometimes "slamming your fist down" and sometimes "jumping out of your seat."

"I feel like an older brother," Wright said. "You can't help but feel excited for them, and that pumps you up, and I think that's what this team is about. It's not about having those marquee players or having one or two or three superstars. It's about a team that has come together."

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It was Wright's late-June neck surgery that began a wave of season-ending injuries for the Mets, who eventually lost stars Neil Walker, Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz. Of that group, Wright's absence was perhaps the least surprising; he missed more than half of the 2015 season due to spinal stenosis, a condition so serious that the Mets spent their offseason making contingency plans at third base.

Still, Wright remains the soul of the Mets, one of only four captains in franchise history, by far the club's longest-tenured player and its most respected clubhouse presence. Inside that room, Wright's absence crushed the Mets.

But the Mets recovered, replacing Wright at third base with former teammate Jose Reyes. They then managed to push past every other injury as well, qualifying for the postseason despite odds stacked against them.

"You're excited for the fan base," Wright said. "You're excited for the city. But you're excited personally for those guys because you know them so well."

When the Mets qualified for Wednesday's Wild Card Game, Wright caught a cross-country flight from California, where his doctor and physical therapist are located. For as long as the team is still playing baseball games, Wright plans to travel with it as a self-appointed "cheerleader."

"It's not mixed feelings at all," Wright said. "I've been in this organization since I was 18 years old, so I'm really excited to have played even a small role in the 30-some odd games that I played … to help this team get here. Of course I want to be out there, but there's nothing I can do to get out there. So I try to do what I can, whether it's advice or just being around to answer some questions for the younger guys. I do what I can to contribute something."

During Tuesday's team workout, Wright spent over an hour in the outfield wearing his glove, laughing alongside various teammates while they shagged fly balls. Though doctors advised him not to sit in the dugout during games immediately following surgery, fearful that a foul ball or an over-aggressive high five would cause damage to his neck, Wright plans to be there for every inning in October.

To that end, Wright politely declined questions regarding the state of his health, saying he does not want to take attention away from his teammates on the field. The Mets remain hopeful he'll be ready for Spring Training.

In the interim, the Mets have more pressing business before them.

"I hope to be here after we win the World Series and then get back to rehab," Wright said. "That's the goal."

Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.