Mets 3B David Wright can identify with Anthony Rizzo’s spotlight
By GORDON WITTENMYER firstname.lastname@example.org June 27, 2012 8:52PM
Anthony Rizzo doubles in the 3rd inning. The Chicago Cubs host the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on Wednesday, June 27, 2012 in Chicago. | Richard A. Chapman~Sun-Times
Updated: July 29, 2012 5:14PM
David Wright was a can’t-miss prospect considered so valuable to the New York Mets in 2002 that they refused to send him to Seattle in exchange for a chance to hire Lou Piniella as their manager.
When Wright debuted in 2004, the New York Post back page screamed: “Great Wright Hope.’’
And almost since then, he’s been regularly referred to in New York as the Mets’ Derek Jeter.
But hyped as much as Anthony Rizzo?
“I don’t know about that,’’ said Wright the day after witnessing Rizzo’s golden-child debut — replete with standing ovation, warm embraces from top brass and offensive production that included a game-winning RBI.
“Yeah, he’s got a little more hype,’’ Wright said. “I think. I mean, I don’t remember the crowd influencing a scoring decision for me.’’
Granted, that first-inning error that was quickly changed to an infield hit after an immediate and lusty round of boos from the crowd Tuesday probably said more about the knee-jerk tendencies of the night’s official scorer than the crowd’s influence.
“In all fairness, it was a hit,’’ acknowledged Wright, who had five RBI on Wednesday in the Mets’ 17-1 victory.
But the point stands. As a guy who successfully navigated the big-market hazards of hype and the temptation to live up to the billing as the face of his franchise, Wright watched with interest as Rizzo’s first two days as the Great Left Hope played out at Wrigley.
“He had some really good at-bats [Tuesday], and that’s impressive because he didn’t get caught up in the moment,’’ said Wright, who was 0-for-4 in his own debut — before delivering a two-hit game the next day.
“It’s impressive to see a guy stick to a game plan the way he did with all the hype, [because] its easy to get out of your element and try to do too much. But it looked like he just did what his strengths are — just go the other way and hit the ball up the middle, especially when he got the big RBI.’’
Rizzo, 22, says that comes from the experience of his six-week debut with San Diego last year when he struggled.
“Last year I got hyped up a lot, too, in San Diego,’’ he said. “I downplayed it as much as I could. But this time I’m kind of having fun with everything. This is my third go-round now [including a September callup].’’
Either way, baseball will probably always be the easy part for guys like Wright and Rizzo, who shoulder such big expectations for prominent franchises in big cities at such young ages.
Cubs executives who have known Rizzo since they drafted him in Boston five years ago rave about his character and work ethic. And Cubs field personnel in spring training got the same first impression of Rizzo, who showed glimpses of leadership even in getting on younger prospects who didn’t practice hard enough for his taste.
If it plays out according to plan, Rizzo will be to Chicago what Wright has become to New York — with the chance to be much bigger if only because of the Cubs’ higher profile within their market.
“You try to just be the person that you are,’’ Wright, a five-time All-Star, said of avoiding the traps. “I try to understand that my responsibility is that I’m a baseball player. I don’t want to go out there and try to be a celebrity or in the tabloids. I’m a baseball player first and foremost.
“And I get a lot of the perks and get a chance to do what I love doing because of what I do on the baseball field. And I try to never lose sight of that. Especially in the market that you’re in, it’s easy to go out and get in trouble and kind of lose focus of what you want to accomplish.’’
Wright said a solid grounding at home growing up, as well as a veteran clubhouse he entered as a rookie helped start him in the right direction. He also didn’t come out of the gate hitting third in the Mets order like Rizzo did.
“It’s a little bit different circumstances,’’ Wright said, “but he looks likes a tremendous [talent].’’
Advice for the kid?
“It looks like he’s got it pretty down pat right now,’’ Wright said. “From afar, I’ll be rooting for him.’’