Stephen Wright had some tough questions to ask, just like everyone else who cared about his big brother, David. The New York Mets were offering their third baseman $138 million, and it seemed their third baseman had 238 million reasons to turn it down.
This was in the weeks following the 2012 season, a sixth consecutive season that didn’t end with a trip to the playoffs. Wright had gathered with his family to discuss the pros and cons of signing an eight-year deal with a franchise playing small ball in a big-ball market, a franchise that had lost its financial footing as part of Bernie Madoff’s staggering con.
Mets owner Fred Wilpon had described Wright as a nonsuperstar in The New Yorker the year before, even though Wright was much better at his job than Wilpon was at his, and even though Wright had made more marketing and community service appearances for Wilpon’s franchise than any boss could expect. The slugger had watched his neighborhood friend, Derek Jeter, spend his entire baseball life in October and on the featured float in ticker tape parades. And as Wright approached his 30th birthday, people close to him wondered if it was time to find his happy ending somewhere else.
“I think we were asking the same questions the whole city was asking,” Wright’s oldest of three younger brothers, Stephen, said Friday by phone.
So the Wright boys of Chesapeake, Virginia, sat down and talked it out.
“My biggest concern for David was whether he could take an outsider’s point of view, whether he could take himself out of the equation,” Stephen told ESPN.com by phone. “David is such a loyal guy through and through, so you had to wonder if he was just being extremely loyal to the Mets. My questions to him were, ‘Do you really think this team can put the pieces together to make a run at the World Series? With everything that’s gone on, do you really think that’s going to happen? Can you take an unbiased approach to this, or do you want to stay because this is the only organization you know?’
“And David answered all of our questions. He convinced us that staying was the right decision. He said, ‘Just wait. We’re coming. We’re going to be really good.’ There was no doubt in his voice.”
Wright’s father remembered hearing the same certainty from his firstborn. Rhon Wright, a longtime Chesapeake cop, and his wife, Elisa, met their son for dinner at 456 Fish on Granby Street in Norfolk to talk about his future. Rhon had read the sportswriters on the Internet who were running down the Mets and who were suggesting that their franchise player should go find himself a new franchise.
“But I wouldn’t say I had my own doubts,” Rhon said Friday by phone. “David is an eternal optimist, and whether he was instilling false hope in himself, I don’t know. I never once in his entire career heard him say, ‘This isn’t going to be the year.’ Never. I’d ask him before every spring training, and he’d say, ‘Dad, we’re going to be good.’
“So before he signed the contract extension, he believed it. He believed they would be competitive and win a World Series. As a father, I just wanted David to be happy. And if he thought the Mets were going to win, and if winning meant everything to him, then I was all for that.”
Yes, it has become abundantly clear this postseason that winning means everything to David Allen Wright. He has his reasons, too. The hamstring injury that turned into a back injury that turned into a diagnosis of spinal stenosis and an absence of more than four months had Wright doubting in June he would make it back this year, according to Mets manager Terry Collins.
The diagnosis had Wright’s family wondering if he would ever play again, according to his father.
“I went on the computer to read about spinal stenosis,” Rhon Wright said, “and it didn’t look real promising. To be honest with you, I had doubts that David would ever come back. He’s a young man and I was worried he’d have back pain the rest of his life. But David had great determination to make it back. He wanted it real bad.”
This is why the ever-composed captain of the Mets has been spotted this postseason allowing himself some fist pumps and primal screams. For a kid who grew up rooting for the local Mets affiliate, the Norfolk Tides, and who figured his early run to the 2006 NLCS would become as routine a New York event as the St. Patrick’s Day parade, it’s been a long time coming.
Wright called Wednesday night’s clinching Game 4 victory over the Cubs “one of the best days ever for me,” and couldn’t stop himself from saying the words “World Series” over and over again. Down in Fort Worth, Texas, where he works as an engineer, Stephen Wright excused himself from a group of friends who were watching on TV as the third baseman celebrated with teammates on the Wrigley Field grass.
“I had to walk away and take 10 minutes to compose myself,” Stephen said. “It’s a new feeling for us, too, and it’s a little overwhelming when you think about everything David’s gone through. We’re seeing an emotion out of David now I’ve never seen before. It’s all pouring out of him now, and he can’t control it.
“To see him have that unwavering confidence over the years when everyone else was thinking otherwise, and to see it pay off like this, it makes it that much more special from our seats.”
Rhon and Elisa Wright watched the sweep of the Cubs from their home in Chesapeake, the same home where they raised David, Stephen, Matthew and Daniel. Rhon spent more than three decades chasing down drug dealers. In other words, he’s a tough guy wired to contain his emotions.
“As a cop, you have to keep an even keel even when you feel like crying,” he said. “But as I’ve gotten older, I let my emotions run free. If I didn’t shed a tear after [Game 4], I was really close to it.”
Rhon and Elisa, who still works as a school security officer, are hoping to make it to New York for their 32-year-old son’s first World Series home games. Before booking their trip, the Wrights need to make sure proper care is arranged for David’s 10-year-old boxer, Homer, who is having some health issues. (Dog owners will understand.)
Meanwhile, Daniel Wright, at 24 the youngest of the boys, said he will join his brothers at Citi Field as a true believer. “I had my doubts this would happen,” Daniel said by phone, “but every time you talked to David, he made you buy into it again.”
Stephen is planning to make the trip from Texas to see his big brother’s prophecy up close and personal. David Wright asked his own tough questions of the Wilpons and their GM, Sandy Alderson, after the 2012 season and decided he could still ascend to the New York heights that his fellow captain, Jeter, already had reached.
“David convinced us that he was going to win,” Stephen said. “He rounded us up and got the family on board. As usual, he was smarter than the rest of us.
“He hasn’t said, ‘I told you so.’ But I wouldn’t be surprised if we heard that from him before too long.”