In the middle of the hoopla that surrounds the All-Star Game — press conferences, workouts at the ballpark, the Home Run Derby — a message from an old pal arrived for David Wright, making baseball’s midseason spectacle even more special.
It was simple and to the point: “Don’t embarrass the area.”
David Wright was named the Virginia High School Player of the Year during his senior season. (AP)
B.J. Upton of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays was reminding Wright of his responsibility to represent their roots in southern Virginia, a region that has become a hotbed for top-notch baseball talent.
Upton didn’t need to worry. The area’s reputation was safe with Wright, the National League’s starting third baseman and cornerstone in the renaissance of the New York Mets. Wright nearly won the Home Run Derby, and then homered in his first All-Star at-bat.
And a month later, the Mets demonstrated their long-term commitment to Wright by giving him a six-year contract extension that the third baseman called humbling.
That’s a quality Wright has always exhibited — even as he emerged as the poster boy of the new Mets. It’s a function of having three brothers who help keep him grounded.
“They let me know when I do something great and they let me know when I do something stupid,” he said.
It was much the same way in his sandlot days, playing alongside Upton.
“It was great, growing up and playing with B.J.,” Wright said of his old Little League buddy, who grew up minutes away from him in the Chesapeake, Va. area. “We always pushed each other in a friendly way. He’s a great friend.”
Wright and Upton were roommates on a traveling Amateur Athletic Union team, the Virginia Blasters, that also included Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals.
“We motivated each other in workouts,” Wright said of Upton. “We hit together. We practiced together. And we goofed off together.”
There wasn’t much time for goofing off because they were surrounded by other very good players. Wright knew it and so did the Major League scouts who turned up at his games.
“In AAU ball, I’d look around the infield,” Wright said. “I was at third base. Justin was at shortstop. Zimmerman was at second base — three future Major Leaguers.
Before them, the region produced third baseman Michael Cuddyer, picked by Minnesota, and pitcher John Curtice, chosen by Boston, both in the first round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft
And then, there was the batboy. But more about him later.
Wright was a standout at Hickory High School and accepted a scholarship offer to Georgia Tech after his junior year. But he never got there after hitting .538 during his senior season and being named the Virginia High School Player of the Year.
He was taken in the first round by the Mets in 2001, the 38th player picked. A year later, Upton was picked by Tampa Bay in the first round — the No. 2 overall pick.
The pals arrived in the Majors during the 2004 season. Wright was plugged in as the Mets’ everyday third baseman and batted .293 with 14 home runs and 40 RBIs in 69 games. Upton played 45 games, hit .258 with four homers and 12 RBIs and returned to the Minors the next year.
By 2005, Upton and Wright had big-league company from their old AAU days. Zimmerman was the fourth overall draft pick by Washington out of the University of Virginia, and in his first taste of big-league ball, he batted .397 in 20 games.
In the first week of the 2006 season, Zimmerman hit his first Major League home run, a dramatic ninth-inning shot that tied the game against the Mets in what became a Washington win. At third base, Wright had mixed feelings.
“I root for those guys,” he said of his pals. “Except when they play against us.”
Now the neighborhood has another player on the big-league horizon. B.J.’s kid brother, Justin, was the first overall pick in 2005 by the Arizona Diamondbacks and is on the organization’s fast track.
Wright remembered B.J.’s little brother.
“Justin was too young to play with us,” he said. “He was our batboy.”
Hal Bock, a freelance writer for MLBPLAYERS.com, is based in New York City. MLBPLAYERS.com is the official Web site of the Major League Baseball Players Association. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.