Danny Abriano, SNY.tv | Twitter |
As the buzz filled Citi Field on Saturday night with a sold out crowd of 43,928 on hand for what would have been an otherwise meaningless second-to-last game of the 2018 season for the Mets, some people started tweeting about how the atmosphere was like a strange cross between Opening Day and a playoff game. But that doesn't quite capture it.
Because it was David Wright night, with the Mets captain preparing to take a bow after taking two at-bats, the game wasn't meaningless. And the atmosphere was like nothing ever felt before, because nothing like that had ever happened before at Citi Field -- or really for the Mets at all, going back to their days at Shea Stadium and the Polo Grounds.
With Wright slated to get those two at-bats before taking his position one last time and then being taken out of the game, the crowd knew what to expect. They knew how many ovations would be required.They knew they were there to say goodbye to someone who took his first at-bat for the team way back in 2004.
The Mets opened the gates early so fans could get an extra glimpse of Wright. At 4:30 p.m., those fans started to fill the stands behind first base where Wright and the team were warming up. As the crowd grew larger and louder, reacting to everything Wright did, they spread out, ringing around the entire ballpark as the buzz grew.
After getting his work in, Wright -- seemingly convincing a security guard not to worry as he made his way over to the stands -- stopped to sign autographs for a horde of fans before heading in to the clubhouse to prepare for his first start in nearly two and a half years.
Right before the game, Wright's daughter, Olivia Shea, threw out the first pitch to her dad. Before Olivia Shea bounded on to the field, I noticed the woman next to me on the second level at Citi Field was already crying.
The at-bats for Wright provided a jolt to the ballpark, but were unspectacular -- a walk on a full count in the first inning, and a pop out to the first baseman in foul ground in the fourth. Then came the moment.
After Wright took his position at third base in the top of the fifth inning, manager Mickey Callaway came to take him out of the game. Wright then started a slow walk across the infield as a thunderous ovation rained down. He waved to the crowd as tears welled up in his eyes.
When Wright made it near the dugout, his teammates were all standing outside of it waiting to embrace him. After hugging them, he went in to the dugout before the fans forced him back out for a curtain call. He then walked off the field, down the dugout steps, and into the clubhouse.
I was in loge between first base and right field at Shea Stadium in 2004 when Wright made his Mets debut and had his first major league at-bat ever against the Expos. He popped out in foul territory in that one, just as he did in his final at-bat Saturday night. Being in a different ballpark 14 years later as he took that at-bat was a strange feeling, made almost surreal by the atmosphere in the ballpark.
Taking the surreal feeling a step further was Wright doing interviews with SNY and WOR after he had exited the game before popping in to the press cafeteria in full uniform (complete with dirt from his slide into second base) and saying "what inning are we in?" It was the sixth inning.
About two hours after his trip through the cafeteria (the Mets won in 13 innings, because of course they did), Wright took the field again to address the fans who had come there to salute him.
"This is love," Wright said. "I can't say anything else. This is love. ... You guys welcomed me with open arms as a 21-year-old kid." Before Wright got emotional again, he wrapped it up, saying "You're gonna make me cry again. I love you guys. Have a good night."
In every way possible, David Wright was Mr. Met. He bled orange and blue (as he often said). And with his body betraying him, he fought for over two years to make it back to his familiar spot at third base -- to go out on his terms. When he finally made it back, what awaited him was something special.
After addressing the fans, Wright had one more thing to do.
As his wife, daughters, and more family and friends flanked him in the press conference room outside the Mets' clubhouse, Wright talked about a night he called "surreal." And then he did what he always does -- turned the attention away from himself, saying the reaction of the fans hit him "right in the heart."
"I heard it was a sellout," Wright said. "You can't believe that people would go out of their way to do something like that. ... When you see the stadium packed like that, there's just no words to describe the feeling of walking out there and hearing your name chanted. ... All these fans thanking me. I should be thanking them."