David Wright bounced up the steps in the moments after Saturday's game and with three simple words summed up the 17-year relationship between himself and his fans.
"This is love," he said, surrounded by about 44,000 friends, a lot of whom were holding back tears.
The night was supposed to be about us honoring Wright. It turned out to be just as much about our love and appreciation for him as it was about his love and appreciation for us and the countless people connected that helped him create a life he so cherishes.
Personally, I prepared myself to feel sad and melancholy all afternoon and evening, while thinking about his career, the waning years of mine and also missing my Dad, who passed away two years ending our tradition of attending the first and last game of the season together. Instead of sadness and mourning, though, I felt inspired by David, who who spent less time playing baseball and more time giving and getting hugs, shaking hands and looking countless people in the eye to say, 'Thank you.'
"All these fans thanking me," he said. "I should be thanking them for everything they allowed me to experience these last 14 or 15 years."
It is the type of overwhelming gratitude and impact we all want for our life, but so few of us ever accomplish and get to experience. The thing that struck me Saturday that I knew but never felt in mass is that, while myself and other Mets fans are grateful for what we saw from David on field during his career, it's how he made us feel that had the bigger impact.
The two at bats, slide into second and throw to first base will not be what I remember about the game. That's just baseball. It happens every day. Instead, in the decades going forward, I will always think about and hope to remain inspired by the exchange of love, respect and appreciation that was endlessly exchange between thousands of people and one man.
It's natural for people to want to compare David's farewell to Derek Jeter's sendoff a few years ago, given both players dominated New York with their talent through a similar set of seasons. The truth is that the two moments couldn't have been more different and both symbolize the difference in the two fan bases as well...
Jeter's career ended with a walk-off base hit, giving his fans one last moment to experience what he did best, which was win. Yankee fans most admired Derek for his hardware and professionalism, not necessarily his humility and personality.
David, on the other hand, ended his night with a weak pop up in foul territory, which interestingly is exactly how he began his career. The at bat was uneventful and disappointing, but it doesn't really matter if Marlins outfielder Peter O'Brien caught or dropped the ball. David's legacy is not about accomplishments, like Jeter, David's legacy is defined by his camaraderie with us and his teammates, his life-long loyalty to the Mets and the strength he showed when carrying us on his shoulders during good and bad times.
I didn't cry Saturday, as I assumed I would. Looking around, I was in the majority. Instead, I was overwhelmed by the beauty of the love being passed back and forth between David and everyone -- literally everyone -- starting from the moment he arrived to the ballpark through when he drove away with his family at the end of the night.
In the span of several hours, I watched him shake the hands of and hug countless teammates, security guards, police officers, teammates, opposing players, team executives, trainers, reporters, and hundreds of fans, including me.
In the clubhouse before the game, he was quietly sitting at his locker, tying his shoes, so I walked over to him, despite being protected by a dedicated security team and multiple members of the PR staff. I wanted him to sign my book, for which he graciously wrote the forward. Instead, he had me autograph it for him, after which he gave me a hug and said, 'Thank you.'
Later, photographing him signing autograph after autograph for a mob of fans behind home plate during batting practice, he pulled on the press pass hanging around my neck and autographed it for me. It was a moment I will never forget.
In the end, while I know he is the franchise leader in a lot of categories, as well as the only person to ever play in multiple postseason, All-Star and World Series games and spend his entire career with the Mets, it's the personal connection we all felt when watching him.
"I'm one of them," Wright answered, when asked after the game how he hopes Mets fans will remember him when looking back on his career. I hope he now understands that we feel the same about him, we've always known that he's one of us, which is what made last night so emotional. Because, seeing Wright wave goodbye was like saying goodbye to a friend.
He'll continue to be around the organization, he may eventually end up coaching or serving as a special assistant to players and the front office, like his friend and former Mets infielder Michael Cuddyer is currently doing for the Twins. But, it's not the same. It will feel like the old friend you run in to from time to time. And, while it's easy to pick up where the relationship left off, swap some stories and have a life, it's fleeting and then life returns to normal.
That said, we will always be able to look back on the memories of what he did for us and how he made us feel, and now we know that he's thinking and feeling the same about us, even when nowhere near Citi Field.
For me, this experience reaffirmed an important lesson, which is that life is not about the destination, instead it's all about the journey.
Thank you, David, for the privilege of taking us with you on an amazing journey.
Matthew Cerrone (Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Contact) is lead writer of MetsBlog.com, which he created in 2003. He also hosts the MetsBlog Podcast, which you can subscribe to here. His new book, The New York Mets Fans' Bucket List, details 44 things every Mets fan should experience during their lifetime. To check it out, click here!