PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. (AP) — Former captain David Wright showed up at Mets spring training camp Monday and spoke to reporters before New York’s game against the Washington Nationals, repeatedly referring fondly to “Al and Johnny.”
It’s that kind of attitude and personal touch, a sort of chumminess that develops within a clubhouse and organization, that Wright thinks can be essential to a winning team.
“Al and Johnny” are Al Leiter and John Franco, former Mets pitchers who were added to the front office two weeks ago in advisory positions.
Wright said the topic of close bonds and friendships that are forged during successful seasons was brought up in a morning meeting with them and new general manager Brodie Van Wagenen, who has communicated regularly with Wright about player development in his own new advisory role.
“The biggest thing in listening to Al and Johnny, specifically, is it seemed like the years when we put it all together, it was more than just (games),” Wright said, referring to the 2000 and 2015 National League pennant-winning clubs.
“If you look at the teams Al and Johnny played on, they probably weren’t the most talented teams, as we weren’t the most talented team in 2015. But what we had was everybody pulling that rope in the same direction.
“Guys got to know each other on a personal level and, more importantly, go out there and play well for each other. … You tried extra hard to go out there and win for one another.”
The 36-year-old Wright was named special adviser to chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon and Van Wagenen in January. An All-Star third baseman before a string of injuries led to the end of his shortened career last season, Wright added there’s no shortage of potential clubhouse leaders in his absence.
New second baseman Robinson Cano, entering his 15th season in the majors, Cy Young Award winner Jacob deGrom and reacquired reliever Jeurys Familia all fit the role, Wright said.
“It just seems like you’ve got leaders all over the field, guys who can get you to that point where you’re talking about the intangibles of a winning season,” Wright said.
Dressed in slacks and a polo shirt, Wright discussed his role with the Mets and even joked about his health.
“I got a stiff neck on the plane ride here — there’s no way I could play. I can’t even make a plane ride without getting hurt,” he quipped.
On the smaller stage of Field 7 behind the main field, a marquee mound matchup took place three hours before Familia fired the first pitch against Washington in the afternoon.
In front of fans, coaches and plenty of prospects lined up around the field, deGrom and Noah Syndergaard, the two flame-throwers at the top of the Mets’ rotation, faced squads comprised of almost entirely minor league players in outings that approached 100 pitches for both.
The reason for the back fields?
The Mets open the season with a three-game series beginning a week from Thursday in Washington, facing three-time Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and free-agent acquisition Patrick Corbin over the course of four days.
New York manager Mickey Callaway and his staff chose to avoid having the team’s top two starters face an NL East rival an extra time.
“Every place I’ve ever been, you take the approach that we’re taking,” Callaway said. “I think that there’s good that comes from this.”
In 6 1/3 innings, deGrom allowed one run and struck out 12. Syndergaard yielded four runs (three earned) and also fanned a dozen in six innings, but prized prospect Andres Gimenez and Wilson Ramos sliced opposite-field homers on consecutive pitches.
Callaway said the Mets will come up with a plan for their last two spring starts over the weekend.
NOTES: OF Michael Conforto homered in his third consecutive game, driving a ball into the wind and onto the right-field berm against Washington for his fourth home run this spring. Pete Alonso also has four, tying for the team lead. . Rule 5 Draft selection Kyle Dowdy worked around a few baserunners to pitch three scoreless innings in the 6-5 loss to the Nationals. The 26-year-old Dowdy, chosen from the Cleveland Indians, said he wants to stick with the Mets: “Hopefully, it looks good. I truly believe this is a World Series-caliber team. They have great chemistry, and I’d love to be a part of it.” . LHP Luis Avilan, who has a 2.38 ERA in a team-high nine appearances, allowed one run in 1 2/3 innings in his bid to land a bullpen spot.