• Exclusives

    The worthy opponent

    When the New York Mets drafted David Wright in the first round of the 2001 amateur draft they knew that they were getting a player from an up-and-coming baseball system in Chesapeake, Virginia. Wright had played with a traveling team, the Tidewater Mets, that included the brothers Upton and Ryan Zimmerman. All four players would eventually end up playing in the same division in MLB.

    As a supplemental pick, the 38th of the first round, David Wright was taken after Mark Teixeira, Casey Kotchman, Mark Prior, Gavin Floyd, Mike Fontenot and number one overall pick Joe Mauer.

    Wright, a supplemental pick of

    Wright, a supplemental pick of the 2001 draft, has become one of the all-times greats of the New York Mets franchise.

    As a prospect, Wright’s scouting report said that his weakest tool was his speed which was merely average. While Wright’s bat was what had him move through the Mets’ system so quickly, the scouting report’s assertion that he had “above-average range, a strong arm, and soft hands” turned out to be a bonus with Wright. Ranked #5 in the Mets’ system in 2001, he reached the big leagues in 2004 where he played 69 games.

    Wright would go on to set franchise records for games played, runs scored, hits and RBIs. At Shea Stadium, Wright would compile a more than respectable slash line of .318/.403/.555. He would hit .284/.375/.451 at Shea’s successor Citi Field. When a club drafts a player, they can only hope that he will do as well at their home park as Wright has done for the Mets. His career numbers away from Shea/Citi Field haven’t been anything to sneeze at either: .294/.366/.485.

    In baseball like other sports, there is always an opponent who, despite being a competitor, represents a clash between clubs, but not a villain. David Wright has been that opponent for the Atlanta Braves. As someone who plays the game the right way and has always portrayed nothing but a love for the game, it has been hard for Braves fans to vilify Wright.

    In 182 games against Atlanta, David Wright’s slash line reads .277/.350/.496. While this may seem only slightly better than average, Wright has hit 36 homers against Atlanta, approximately 1 home run every 5 games. Add to that 190 hits and 98 RBIs and it has seemed at times that Wright couldn’t be stopped by Atlanta pitching. As of today, Wright has put up decent numbers at Turner Field in his 91 games there–261/.326/.480–nothing quite as good as his numbers against Atlanta when he has been on his home turf.

    Over the last couple of years, the Braves have seen less of Wright than in previous years. His 2015 spinal stenosis diagnosis became something that he and the Mets have had to manage on a day-to-day basis. With a narrowing spinal canal, Wright’s lumbar spine has caused him considerable pain. If not for a stress fracture in his lumbar spine, the diagnosis may not have come until the stenosis caused further deterioration of the spine. What this means for his future, nobody is sure. No player has played successfully with an open diagnosis like this.

    The real question for Wright has come with his neck surgery. Requiring a fusion of vertebrae in the cervical spine to repair a herniated disk, it is unclear whether Wright will be able to continue to play at an elite level. Opting for the surgery rather than to play through the pain was something his manager Terry Collins saw coming. The 33-year-old will be out for the remainder of the 2016 season.

    Going into SunTrust Park next season, the Braves will have a young, exciting roster much like the power arms of the New York Mets, the young Nats led by Bryce Harper, young talent of the Phillies and the big bats of the Marlins. It benefits young prospects to play against the best as they settle into the big leagues. It won’t seem right for the Braves to face off against the Mets without the captain being on the field, his smile wide and his glove putting on a defensive clinic.

    If all goes right in the third baseman’s recovery, he should be on the field come spring in Port St. Lucie.

    Tara Rowe is an independent historian and beat writer for BravesWire.com. Follow Tara on Twitter @framethepitch.