2005-04-22 / Sports

The Wright Stuff: Future Star Fits At Shea

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

FLUSHING, NY - Met fans come in all shapes and sizes. Some even go above and beyond what is expected from their fandom by painting their cars or houses blue and orange or putting colorful Met tattoos on their bodies.

Mets’ third baseman David Wright understands how much the fans love the team. He is not only a player, but one of the team’s biggest backers. While looking around Shea, he proclaimed, “I’m probably a bigger Met fan than anyone sitting in this stadium.”

He may have a case. Wright grew up in Norfolk, VA, the longtime home of the Tides, the Mets AAA affiliate. He was reared on the Mets of the 1980s and eventually followed the team religiously in the late 1990s.

“I got a chance to see a lot of AAA games growing up,” Wright said. “My biggest thrill was going to [Tides’ home] Harbor Park and then turning on the TV the next day and seeing guys like Rey Ordonez and Benny Agbayani at Shea Stadium.”

The dream became a reality when the Mets lost pitcher Mike Hampton to free agency and the Colorado school system after the 2000 season. The organization used the “sandwich” pick it received as compensation to select the Hickory (VA) High School star in 2001, after he hit .538 with six homers and 19 RBI his senior year.

Ever since then, he was mentored by his idols.

“I grew up liking Howard Johnson, Gary Carter and Darryl Strawberry and coming up through the system, they were some of my minor league coaches,” Wright said. “To get a chance to be taught by some of my heroes has been truly amazing.”

And it was truly helpful as well. Under the Mets’ instruction, Wright made a meteoric rise through the system and last season really came into his own thanks to a former resident of the Shea hot corner.

“HoJo is the best,” Wright said of his former hitting coach.

“He knows my swing so well and he helps me out. I think our minor league system doesn’t get the credit it deserves.”

Wright’s got a point. When you look at his development, the third baseman improved every single year and started out last season hitting .363 with 10 homers and 40 RBI in 60 games at AA Binghamton. That torrid start earned him a promotion to Norfolk and fulfillment of one of his dreams.

“Norfolk was special,” he recalled. “Most people don’t get the chance to play in front of their hometown fans.”

But Wright did and succeeded by hitting .298 with eight home runs and 17 RBI in only 31 games. It showed the Mets their third baseman of the future is the third baseman of the present and he became the 129th player to man the hot corner for the Amazins last July 21st.

“It was a dream come true,” Wright fondly remembered. “The most incredible feeling was running out [at Shea] for the first time. When I played tee-ball, I dreamed about that moment and to get that chance was the most special feeling.”

Wright took advantage of his dream by hitting .293 with 14 homers and 40 RBI in 69 games for the Mets in 2004. He showed power and flair that had many baseball people comparing him to the St. Louis Cardinals’ All-Star third baseman, Scott Rolen. Also with his good looks, the 22 year old was in the right place to become a star.

“New York’s what it’s all about,” Wright said of his new baseball home. “In my opinion, it’s best baseball city in the world. It’s the fans, the electricity and there’s a certain edge to New York that no other city has.”

And that includes the demands. “There are pressures I put on myself that I don’t need to put on myself,” Wright explained. “Playing in front of the New York fans, who are so energetic and electric, I want to do everything I can and I go above and beyond doing everything I can do to help the team win.”

That may explain the slow start this season. Over the first 14 games, Wright is hitting .222 with three home runs and 7 RBI. He says he is feels good and “trying to work with the coaches to try and get back on track.”

Smart money says he does it, since the third baseman is a student of the game. Wright took his success in 2004 as a learning experience and examined his failures to improve his game.

“I learned a lot last year and got my feet wet,” he said. “I’m still developing and I found out a lot of inconsistencies and a lot of holes in my game. I tried to work on them this past off-season.”

Nothing less is expected from the Mets biggest fan in the best baseball city in the world.

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