David Wright might be the closest thing Major League Baseball has to a superhero.
For the last four months, the New York Mets’ star third baseman has been unstoppable. Since December, Wright has inked a $138 million contract, gotten engaged to his model girlfriend, adorned a new line of "Gray Line" sightseeing buses, and been named the captain of two separate baseball organizations.
The first of those organizations is the Mets, who named Wright the fourth captain in the franchise's history in March. The second is Team USA, the squad that Wright led so effectively during the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Despite playing with the greatest players the country has to offer, it was Wright that earned the nickname of “Captain America.” First, Wright mashed a towering grand slam in a game against Italy, becoming just the second American player to accomplish the feat during WBC play. In the tournament’s second round, he played a major part in Team USA’s victory over Puerto Rico, driving in five of the team’s seven runs.
In an interview atop one of the “Gray Line” sightseeing buses that will now bear his image all over New York, Wright told IBTimes that he considers the experience of representing his country to be one of his greatest accomplishments.
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“I mean, forget about the results of the tournament. Putting the uniform on, wearing ‘USA’ across your chest, is right up there at the top of that list,” Wright told IBTimes. “It’s not too often that you get to represent your country, and when you do, it’s obviously a memorable moment.”
For Wright, a stellar performance in the World Baseball Classic was just the beginning. As the newly minted captain of the New York Mets, fans are counting on him to translate his international success to the team's 2013 MLB season.
The decision to name Wright the franchise’s fourth-ever captain was not merely a symbolic tribute to his leadership skills. The 2013 New York Mets are a young team, brimming with players who are breaking into the majors. In the ultimate team sport, a strong leader can be the difference between a playoff team and a rudderless also-ran.
When asked about the differences between playing with a young team as opposed to a group of veterans, Wright was quick to praise his current teammates.
“We’ve got guys that bring it every night, we’ve got some scrappy players, some gritty players, guys that, you know, when you come to the ballpark, everybody checks their egos at the door,” Wright told IBTimes. “We’ve got guys that know how to play the game and know how to get the job done.”
Wright’s leadership, both on the field and in the clubhouse, becomes even more important with the news of pitching ace Johan Santana’s shoulder injury. On March 29, the Mets announced that they would be without the services of Santana for the entire 2013 season. The 34-year-old hurler tore his shoulder capsule for a second time, an injury that previously cost him the entire 2011 season. In addition to being a two-time Cy Young Award winner, Santana tossed the first no-hitter in New York Mets history in 2012. The southpaw was also known as a stabilizing force in the team’s clubhouse.
Although Wright acknowledges the significance of Santana’s absence, calling it a “big blow,” he expressed confidence in the abilities of young pitchers such as Matt Harvey and Jonathan Niese.
“Johan did a tremendous job, especially with our young pitching staff, guiding them and teaching them to prepare, so that’s going to be missed, no question,” Wright said. “But I think, most importantly, we’re going to miss not having Johan at the ballpark. You know, keeping everything loose, keeping everything fun. Obviously, what he does on the mound is pretty special, so that’s going to need to be replaced."
“We’re going to miss Johan in more ways than just what he does on the mound, but we have a lot of young pitchers that can step up and fill that void and get the job done.”
While he certainly takes his performance on the diamond seriously, Wright is always ready to loosen things up in the Mets clubhouse. On Saturday, Wright and his youthful teammates became the latest professional sports franchise to release a team version of the “Harlem Shake” viral video.
The video, dubbed the “Citi Field Shake” after the team’s stadium, starts off casually enough. Jay Horwitz, New York’s beloved director of media relations, gets things started, flailing around amongst a decidedly indifferent group of Mets. Seconds later, the Mets ditch their uniforms in favor of the most impressive assortment of costumes this side of Hollywood.
According to Wright, the team’s version of the “Harlem Shake” has been in the works since spring training. “We talked about it during spring training as a group that we wanted to do something, but we didn’t have the 'film crew' that it would take to put on the production,” Wright said. “We all met up at the stadium the day before the first day (of the season). It was good to get all the guys together and have some fun with it, and it was good to be led by the legendary Mr. Jay Horwitz.”
The “Citi Field Shake” was a team effort, but Wright may have had the video’s most memorable performance. Towards the end of the clip, Wright and teammate LaTroy Hawkins raided the office of Mets manager Terry Collins. Sporting New York Giants helmets and backwards jerseys, the two players put on a private dance for Collins, who could only smile and shake his head.
If Wright had gotten his way, Collins would have been right in the thick of the action. “We were trying to get him to be in the video, like dancing, but he wouldn’t do it,” Wright told IBTimes. “So the next best thing was him just shaking his head at us doing it.”
The Mets’ scrappy, yet laid-back team dynamic is already paying dividends in 2013. Led by its fiery captain, the squad has reeled off a pair of impressive wins over the San Diego Padres to start the season.
Another 90 victories or so, and Collins may be dancing after all.