By JAYNE THURBER-SMITH
With so much press about baseball players gone bad lately, we have chosen one of the good guys to celebrate as our Citizen of the Month: one of Chesapeake’s favorite “boys of summer,” the New York Mets’ David Wright.
“I love David Wright,” Mets owner Fred Wilpon stated on www.mlb.com . “He’s one of the great people, not only in baseball. He’s just a great young man and proving himself to be a great baseball player.”
Wright’s parents, Chesapeake residents Elisa and Rohn, raised David and his brothers Stephen, Matthew and Daniel to know that who you are is more important than what you do for a living.
“If you asked my parents, they would be the first ones to say they didn’t set out to raise a good baseball player,” Wright says. “They cared more about me the person and me the student in school; baseball was a distant priority. My parents made sure I did well in school, and they raised me to be a good citizen. I loved the game growing up so they held baseball over my head — if I didn’t make the grades or if I acted up in class it would be taken away. It goes hand in hand. Discipline in your personal life helps you to be disciplined on the field. Work ethic in the classroom translates on the field.”
Anyone who has walked the halls of Hickory High School has seen Wright’s jersey and other various memorabilia on display in one of its glass cases. Over his four-year career at Hickory, Wright hit .438 with 13 home runs and 90 RBIs. He was named Virginia All-State Player of the Year in 2001, his senior year.
One of the most well-known baseball players to come out of the Hampton Roads area, Wright hasn’t forgotten his roots. As third-baseman for the New York Mets he uses his celebrity status for good by promoting various humanitarian efforts in the big city, but also hosts his annual “David Wright’s Vegas Night” at the Virginia Beach Convention Center in January to raise money for the Children’s Hospital of The King’s Daughters.
“When we originally created the David Wright Foundation, the first event I had was for Multiple Sclerosis,” he says, “because a close friend’s wife has MS, and I wanted to do that for them. Since then we’ve also worked closely with children’s charities like Ronald McDonald House and CHKD.”
Wright also hasn’t forgotten his childhood friends whom he now faces in stadiums instead of on the nearest field.
“I’m still very close with (Washington Nationals’) Ryan Zimmerman, (Atlanta Braves’) Justin and B.J. Upton,” he says. “They all come back for my CHKD event in January, often flying in specifically for that. I also show up for their charity golf tournaments. We all keep in touch, and some of us work out together in the off season. It’s surreal – you never would have thought back when we were 12 years old we would someday be putting on major league uniforms and playing each other!”
Wright doesn’t think he would be where he is now if he hadn’t grown up in the Tidewater area, and he attributes his success to various coaches.
“Really there were so many who were instrumental in my career, it’s hard to name them all,” he says. “Growing up I played on an amateur team that instilled a lot of great things in me. Ron Smith, Alan Erbe, Tommy Townsend, Nick Boothe from Virginia Wesleyan all taught me a lot of what I utilize today. It’s such a baseball hotbed here. The way the community has embraced baseball in general makes us all proud who have made it to pro.”
Wright played 31 games for the Norfolk Tides, the Met’s Triple A team at the time, in the summer of 2004 before getting called up to New York.
“Coming onto the Mets field to play for the first time, I of course had the butterflies but it was a good ‘nervous,’” he remembers. “This is what you’ve worked your entire baseball life for. You look up at the scoreboard and think ‘here I am!’ I’ll never forget seeing my photo on the big screen, hearing my name announced.”
At a time when pro athletes usually sell out to the highest bidder, Wright is not going anywhere. Now 30, he is commonly called the face of the New York Mets’ franchise. His contract currently takes him up to the year 2020.
“I grew up rooting for the Mets,” he says. “To be drafted with them at the age of 18 and then develop with them and be able to stay with them – it’s great. One of my proudest moments is being named captain of the team this year, only the fourth in our team’s history. I take the responsibility very seriously.”
He brings to mind another one-team third baseman who took his responsibility as a player seriously: Cal Ripken Jr., Wright’s hero.
“As a kid, Dad used to take me to Baltimore once a summer to cheer on Cal Ripken,” he remembers.
And now that he’s grown, Wright’s ever-present smile on the field says it all. He’s more than happy to get paid to play a game he loves.
“I’m so lucky to be where I am today,” he says. “Whenever I think I’m having a bad day, if I commit an error or strike out, I think that I could be stuck working in an office somewhere, and it doesn’t seem so bad in the grand scheme of things. You know the saying, ‘a bad day at the ball field is better than a good day anywhere else!’”
Congratulations David, on being named Citizen of the Month! We appreciate your dedication to public service. The City of Chesapeake is incredibly fortunate to have you as a role model for our young people.
Editor’s note: The next David Wright Vegas Night will be held January 24, 2014. Tickets go on sale in late September. For more information please call 757-668-7070.