By Victoria Edel
Everybody loves a sports hero. One who overcomes the odds, often with the help of their friends/teammates, but also because of their own extraordinary strength. They exude determination. They do the difficult thing even when they’re scared. They sacrifice, and they’re ultimately rewarded.
Everybody loves David Wright. David Wright is the quintessential sports hero — mine, specifically. Since I was 12 years old, more than half my life.
But David Wright does not fit this tidy baseball hero’s journey. For a moment, in 2015, he did. David came back from an almost season-long DL stint at the end of August. He hit a home run in his first at-bat against the Phillies. He led the team to a World Series. He was the MVP of their only win in that series. The Daily News made a poster of him as an orange and blue Captain America that they put in all the papers the next day. I still have mine. If this were a movie they would’ve come back and won the series, and David would have succeeded in leading the team out of the darkness that plagued them for most of his career. They lost in five games. I cried.
I was at the game where David Wright hit his last walk-off RBI on May 21, 2016. David was placed on the DL on June 3. This year, Wilmer Flores passed David’s Mets walk-off record. I cried.
If this were a movie, Wright would have trained to come back, and just when he was about to give up, a doctor would have found the key to fixing his body. He would’ve come back in 2016 and hit a walk-off home run in the Mets wild card game, and they would’ve won the World Series. If that ending were too pat for this hypothetical movie, he would’ve come back in 2017, or maybe 2018 and played productively, perhaps leading to a new generation of Mets talent.
But this isn't a movie. David Wright toiled away in pain for years — including during the 2015 World Series — because he wanted nothing more than to play baseball. And it hurts that he can’t have that.
This is more often the reality of the game than we want to admit. People love to point fingers when an athlete suffers an injury-- It’s the training staff, it’s strength and conditioning, or they shouldn’t have dived for that ball. Even Wright tried to blame himself, pointing fingers at old plays he shouldn’t have gone for. But the truth of the end of David Wright’s career is that it’s no ones fault. Baseball is magic, and a baseball player makes magic with their hands every day. Sometimes the magic goes away and there’s no real reason why. You have to live with it.
It’s so painful to watch the end of Wright's career, because it makes us confront our own mortality. Our bodies are our own, but we cannot control them. An All-Star third baseman can blow out his spine and never play again. There is no lesson to this story. No moral, no redemption. It’s real life, in all its inane meaninglessness.
So much of American culture is about trying to shape our bodies in an attempt to shape our fate. There’s paleo, CrossFit, juice cleanses, waist trainers, veganism, triathlons. We do these things because we think they’ll keep us young and beautiful and thin — or as close to these things as we are now. We think they’ll keep us from dying, even though we’d never say it aloud. When people are sick or injured or disabled, we assign blame because we want to believe it can’t happen to us.
David Wright’s career-ending spinal stenosis is proof that none of that actually works. You can do everything “correct” and still lose it all. You actually definitely will lose it all, because our bodies are not meant to last forever.
How hard it must be for him to have the thing he loves ripped away from him for no good reason. I feel betrayed by my body when I have a cold, or seasonal allergies, or if my knee is squeaky because of the rain. David Wright has to live that reality every day, of a body that was his but not his to control, that had to be coaxed in order to let him do his job. He toiled in the shadows so he can play one, last, meaningless game.
But this might actually be OK. The author John Green said that the hero’s journey is not actually from weakness to strength, but from strength to weakness. And that’s what happens to us all. It’s not glamorous. It wouldn’t make a good movie. Frankly, it’s depressing.
It’s also what makes someone like David Wright. It makes a man who can sit at a press conference and announce that he’s going to play in one more game, knowing he did everything he could. It makes the type of man who calls reporters when they get laid off, emails strangers when they get sick, and asks that no one pity him, even now.
So, let's not pity him. He seemed to be a person determined to make every moment count. He played baseball with an obvious love for the game, and he played in some really terrible games with embarrassingly bad teams. Even in photos of rehab starts and simulated games, where he was likely in excruciating pain, he would smile for the people. He always seemed happy to be there. He made countless Mets fans, myself among them, fall in love with this team and baseball. When I’m looking for baseball magic, I find it in that. That magic doesn't cease.
Sometimes you keep fighting even when you know you can’t win. David Wright is that guy. The definition of a sports hero.