On May 29, 2006, the future looked endlessly promising for David Wright. The Mets were roaring back to relevance and, at 23, the Virginia native was quickly becoming the face and heart of the franchise. Wright could do no wrong — with the perfect combination of talent, leadership and good looks, he had all the makings of a New York megastar. He was, as Sports Illustrated declared that day, the Mets’ new “Prince of the City.”
Wright certainly had prince-like qualities, including his youth and his boyish charm. But the title of Prince also had broader implications, suggesting that there were bigger things to come. Wright could not yet be dubbed the next Derek Jeter, but one day, we all mused, he might lead the Mets to a championship. After all, princes, more often than not, become kings.
Of course, the six years since then have not gone as planned. There was the heartbreak of ’06 and the collapse of ’07. There was more agony in ’08. For Wright, there were the strikeout problems and the streakiness, the injuries and the throwing woes. From the fans came cries of “Trade David,” as well as a widespread belief that Wright just wasn’t clutch enough. In 2011, with Wright mired in his second underwhelming season in three years, his own boss, owner Fred Wilpon, said that he wasn’t a superstar.
And yet, with the Mets kingdom crumbling around him, Wright stood tall. He brushed off Wilpon’s comments and, almost illogically, arrived at 2012 Spring Training as optimistic as ever, prepared to lead a group of unproven players and proven mediocre ones on a mission to prove the world wrong.
The Beltran and Reyes years had come and gone; they served their time in Flushing, injured their respective legs and moved on to, ahem, greener pastures. Willie Randolph, Omar Minaya and Jerry Manuel had left their unfortunate legacies. Bernie Madoff had left a ghost of his own.
But in body, only Wright remained from the 2006 roster, and after six years of hardship — six years of crap – he emerged from the rubble stronger than ever. Now, he’s playing the best baseball of his life, hitting for average and power, coming through in the clutch and playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. He’s an MVP candidate. And, most importantly, he’s leading the Mets — not to a championship, but to respectability, a place they haven’t been in far too long.
In the end, maybe Wright will go down as a tragic hero, a great ballplayer and a worthy role model who got stuck with the wrong team at the wrong time. But his fate is not yet sealed. David is still on the good side of 30, and if the Mets shell out the money — and if Wright is still up to the challenge — he will have plenty of time left to write his New York legacy.
Just like six years ago, he may have another chance to carry an up-and-coming franchise to the top.
Maybe someday, the Prince will finally become King.