“I’ve been a fan of this team since the seventies,” said DeLuca, riding out his moment of Zen. “And how many third basemen have we had? We’ve had like a million. They come, they go, they don’t work out.” He took a salutary swig of lukewarm beer. Gomez nodded. “But not this kid, no. He’s gonna be a legend, you can just feel it. He’s clean. He’s the quintessential pro.” As DeLuca spoke, the Cleveland batter cut into the ball—thwock!—hitting a fierce grounder that took an odd hop, vectoring toward Wright’s face. DeLuca and Gomez rose to their tiptoes. The ball was bobbled, seemingly an error, but, hold on, Wright adjusted and made a hard throw to first, beating the runner by a few inches. “Ohhhwaaa!” DeLuca shouted. “See that? Not the play. But see that smile? That’s what I’m talking about! That charisma! I’m telling you, man, he’s our Jeter.”
“Our wives love him,” added Gomez, for emphasis.
“Our wives want to marry him!”
“They really do!”
“Hell, I want to marry the kid,” said DeLuca, clinking bottles with Gomez. “I said to my wife—I said, ‘Honey, if I don’t come back, it means I ran away with David Wright.’ He’s helped bring the fun back to this team, okay? Which, believe you me, was missing for a long, long time.”
In 2004, when he was brought up from the minors in the middle of the season, Wright rented an apartment on the Upper East Side: a fine modern spread with astonishing views, which he tended to leave vacant during the off-season—preferring, like a college kid, to move back home to Chesapeake, Virginia, with his parents and three younger brothers. Most professional athletes are full-time nomads who spend half the year in buses and hotels and rarely live in the city for which they play. But to be a star in New York, you have to be more than a commuter, a fact that Wright understands. In December, he bought a $6 million loft in the Flatiron district, which he’s currently renovating, checking in constantly from Port St. Lucie to make sure everything will be ready by April 9, the day of his first home game. “Since I have literally just about no taste and no understanding of what colors go with what, I hired an interior decorator,” Wright says one day over lunch, his tone somewhat embarrassed. “Basically, I told her I wanted it to be the ultimate bachelor pad. We’ve butted heads a few times—she wants more color, I’m into the grays and blacks—but it’s been a pretty smooth experience.” When asked a question almost mandatory for wealthy, modern athletes—how many flat-screens do you have?—Wright uses both hands to count. “A lot,” he says, unable to remember exactly. “I was at the ESPN Zone—you know it? In Times Square? Anyway, I based my media room on how they do their TVs. I’ve got five in there so I can watch every football game.”
Wright says he was always a “displaced New Yorker,” though it is because of his relationship to the city’s sports teams more than to the city itself. As a kid, he was a Giants fan for reasons that offer a glimpse into his competitive nature. “My father was a Redskins fan, so I picked one of their biggest rivals,” explains Wright with a laugh. “I basically looked for any excuse to compete against him. That’s just how I am. Always been that way. Can’t explain it.” As has been noted by many a sentimental sportswriter, he also grew up cheering for the Norfolk Tides, the minor-league team that, at the time, served as a farm club for the Mets. When Wright talks about New York, he has an endearing tendency to sound like a man trying to memorize a tourist brochure: “Just living here, I feel like I’ve become more cultured. The museums, the people. In Virginia, where I grew up, it was a very conservative town. Just take the food in New York. I don’t know if I’d ever had sushi before I came here, but in New York, every other place is a sushi restaurant.” So the city has changed his worldview? “Oh, yeah, definitely. I drive a lot faster and more aggressively whenever I’m back home. And people will sometimes call me out for slipping in the New York accent. And talking too fast. People back home say I talk too fast now.”
Many have noted that Wright, despite his age, is preternaturally savvy with the media. Indeed, in person he is accommodating but distant, a touch mechanized, someone who never strays from the lessons of those “How to Behave” sessions years ago. His locked-down quality comes, perhaps, from being the son of a cop: He learned early on to stay in line, do things right, lead by example, keep himself in check. “I’m really careful about making friends, about who I surround myself with,” he says. “Most of my friends are people I’ve known since I was a kid. I don’t have an entourage or anything—I like the show, but I think they’re kind of absurd. I just make sure I’m around people I can trust.” Remarkably, given that he’s come up in a tabloid era, he seems to have immunized himself to scandal: Search far and wide on the Internet, and you’ll find a few snapshots of him doing shots with some friends (reportedly St. John’s students), but nothing more. This requires vigilance. Any misstep, no matter how small or well intentioned, has the potential to backfire. A minor stir was recently manufactured, for instance, when Wright told reporters, half-seriously, that he’d switch to any position if A-Rod were to leave the Yankees and come to the Mets. Last year, he unwittingly spawned a low-grade controversy when he was approached by someone on the field asking him to film a promotional spot for the “Salvation Miracles Revival Crusade.” Though dubious-sounding, he assumed it was franchise-sanctioned and obliged. “Hi, I’m David Wright,” he says perkily in the spot. “I invite you to the ‘Salvation Miracles Revival Crusade’ with Dr. Jaerock Lee at Madison Square Garden…,” at which point the screen cuts to an image of a man holding up his crutches, having been healed by Dr. Lee. “That was really my fault,” says Jay Horwitz, the Mets’ director of public relations. “There’s so many people on the field, and David’s so accommodating. Most guys won’t even bother, but he doesn’t like saying no to anyone.”