David Wright doesn't fear failure, he despises it. In fact, almost everything he has accomplished in baseball and in life has been driven by his hatred of coming up short.
The young All-Star third baseman for the New York Mets, arrived almost 20 minutes early for his STACK cover shoot. He showed up with a smile and politely introduced himself. After flawlessly answering all of our questions, he ran out to the diamond for a spring training session, during which he stopped every ground ball, effortlessly pegged each throw and took several perfect, punishing swings at the plate. David is infuriatingly good at everything. But that’s hardly enough.
In four and a half seasons of Major League baseball, David has earned three consecutive All Star selections, two consecutive Gold Gloves and two consecutive Silver Slugger Awards. He sports a .309 career batting average, frosted with 130 homers and 489 RBIs. Most MLB players would give anything for such an impressive stat line, but David is unsatisfied. “I’m very tough on myself,” he says. “I’m very pessimistic when it comes to evaluating my game. I always feel like there’s room for improvement and that I’m not good enough. I think that continues to fuel the fire and makes sure that in the off-season I put myself in position to be the best player I can. That’s the kind of attitude that I want to keep.”
His disgust for underachieving is so strong that the imperfect nature of baseball torments him. “The hardest thing for me to overcome is the amount of failure that comes with playing this game,” he says. “To be one of the best hitters in the game, you fail seven out of 10 times. You have to deal with that mentally and become mentally tough, [so] if you start struggling you can snap out of it by working.”
His obsessive quest for perfection in an imperfect game began back at Hickory High School in Virginia, where David dreamed of playing ACC baseball. He says, “I always knew that I had to outwork my competition, because I’m not a guy who had the best tools or the best skills. My parents taught me that work ethic where you might not be the best player on the field, but you go out there and outwork everyone. That’s the same philosophy I have now. I might not have the skill set, but I am going to put in the time and reach my potential.”
David’s fierce drive on the diamond allowed him to reach beyond his ACC dreams, when the Mets selected him in the first round of the 2001 MLB Draft. “I was fortunate that I had college coaches and professional scouts coming to see me play,” he says. “I talked with the people who scheduled my [high school] classes to see if we could shuffle a few things here and there to get out a little early so that I could go out and take batting practice before my games in front of the scouts. I wanted to make sure that I did everything I could to put myself in a position to showcase the skills I had.
It worked out really well for me.” It’s worked out pretty well for the Mets, too. Since locking down a starting spot midway through the 2004 campaign, David has helped New York average 89 wins per season.
But with better play comes higher expectations, and regular-season success has not yet led to postseason glory. In 2006, the Mets advanced to the NLCS, only to lose a heartbreaking Game 7 at home to St. Louis. In 2008, they had a commanding lead in their division, then collapsed in the final six weeks and missed the Wild Card spot by one game.
The Mets falling short of their goals eats away at David, but he’s learned to put his displeasure to good use. “My biggest motivation comes when I think about failing as a team,” he says. “When you don’t get the job done or underachieve, that’s what gets me going and that’s what fuels me. I want to go out there and be considered an unselfish player. If the team needs something, I’ll give up an at-bat or I’ll put myself in a position where I try to give myself up for the good of the team.”
As a young star, team leader and role model on a big-market team, David has experienced huge amounts of pressure. Yet even carrying the country’s largest city on his back doesn’t seem to shake him. “Obviously, in New York, winning is first,” he says. “Nothing else matters if you don’t win. The fans don’t care what you do individually if the team doesn’t win and succeed. But I put a lot more pressure on myself than any sort of outside influence could ever put on me.”
Although David spends countless hours lifting weights and conditioning his body for each season, he is quick to point out his priority: “You talk a lot about what you do in the weight room to build up your baseball muscles, but the best way to get in baseball shape is to go play the game. Long toss, taking swings, fielding ground balls—that’s how you work all the little muscles that are tough to work in the weight room.”
David always has a goal in mind when he sets out for his on-field training. “Baseball is so much about muscle memory that everything you practice has to carry over into the game,” he says. “You really have to go out there with a purpose to work on stuff, because if you create bad habits, they will carry over into the game. You have to go game speed all the time. That has helped me focus a lot on quickness. I want to fire a little faster and be more explosive. I want to make sure that my first step is quick. With hitting, [I want to make sure] my first movement is powerful and I get a good torque.”
Before he even thinks about performing baseball skills at game speed, David gets his body ready with a thorough on-field warm-up. “I do a lot of stretching, because it’s tough to go out there and compete and play at your best if you have a nagging injury,” he says. “It’s important to loosen up your muscles before you go into the baseball skills. This warm-up is focused on getting a good sweat and lather working; it’s kind of two things in one. You get a good stretch, but you also stay active and get the blood going with movement and plyometric work.”
Perform the following movements and stretches in consecutive fashion upon taking the field. The warm-up should take about 15 minutes to complete.
|Jog/Backpedal||2x20 yards each|
|Run, Pivot, Run (run 20
yards to cone, plant,
pivot and run back to
|Leg Swings Front to Back||1x10 each leg|
|Leg Swings Side to Side||1x10 each leg|
|Saigon Squat||1x20 seconds|
|Trunk Rotations||1x10 each direction|
|Arm Circles||1x10 each direction|
|Straddle Stretch (Right,
|1x20 seconds each
|Groin Stretch||1x20 seconds each
|Hip Flexor Stretch (Lunge
|1x20 seconds each
|Shoulder Stretch (arm
|1x20 seconds each
|Lat/Tricep Stretch (elbow
|1x20 seconds each
|Overhead Reach and
Twist (arms overhead
|1x10 each direction|
|Walking Lunge||1x20 yards|
|Straight-Leg March||1x20 yards|
|Shuffle/Groin Stretch (two
shuffles, lateral lunge
each direction, repeat)
|Butt Kicks||1x20 yards|
|Power Skips||1x20 yards|
Although his main strengths lie elsewhere, David has swiped a better-than-respectable 49 bases over the past two seasons—the result of his diligent work on the base paths. Another testament to his thorough game preparation and baseball intelligence is the fact that David routinely devotes time during each skill session to reading and reacting to a pitcher’s delivery. This helps him avoid getting caught off guard and ensures that he can take advantage of even the slightest miscue by an opposing hurler.
“In The Dirt” Read and React
Reps: 5-10 at each base
Coaching Points: Stay low during shuffles // Work with both left-handed and right-handed pitchers
One of the more difficult actions at the hot corner is the cross-field throw to first base—especially after running or diving toward the third base line to field a sharply hit ball. David and his cannon are prepared. “It’s somewhat of a long throw to begin with,” he says. “So I really have to work on lengthening things out and making sure that come game time, my shoulder’s strong enough to get it across the diamond. We do a lot of shoulder exercises to strengthen our arms and work on our throwing, but mainly the Long Toss is what strengthens it.”
Early in spring training, when soreness is more likely, David recommends performing Long Toss two or three times per week, with a focus on getting air underneath the ball, until your arm gets into shape.
Reps: 1-2 throws at each distance
David’s 2007 and 2008 Gold Glove Awards prove that he’s a complete baseball player. “Taking ground balls is very important,” he says, “because, to me, defense and pitching win a lot of games. Everybody wants to hit, because that’s where you get all the glory—for hitting home runs and driving in runs. But defense is where you can really help a pitcher out.”
To make sure he is ready for anything hit his way, David loads up, during the first part of spring training, with a high volume of fielding drills. “At the beginning of spring training, you take your most ground balls,” he says. “You want to get your legs in shape and get your mind right so that you know what you have to work on moving forward to the end of spring training. By the end, you should have a pretty good idea of what you need to get ready before a game and what you need to work on in practice.”
David’s main focus comes down to soft hands and precise footwork. “I do a lot of one-handed drills where I try to make my hands as soft as possible so that my hand gives with the ball,” he says. “Then, I back up and do some ground balls and really work on my footwork. I make sure that once I catch the ball, I can get my momentum going toward first base to make nice, strong throws. When you think about fielding a ground ball, you think about using your glove and hands. But you get into position with your feet, and that’s why we do a lot of agility and plyometric work—to get our feet moving a little quicker and to get into position a little quicker. It doesn’t matter how soft your hands are, if you don’t get yourself into position, a lot of times you’re going to miss the ground ball.”
Coaching Points: Get into fielding position quickly with feet // Stay low // Focus on keeping fielding hand soft and allow it to give with ball
Coaching Points: Get into fielding position quickly with feet // Stay low // Focus on soft hands and allow them to give with ball // Get momentum going toward first to add strength to throw
That David has hit over .300 in all four of his full seasons in the Majors is a product of his mindful work at the plate. “My batting practice starts before I take the field,” he says. “I go down to the cage and hit off the tee for a little bit and then take a little Front Toss to get loosened up and get my hands activated. I carry that onto the field.”
Once he steps up to the plate to put everything together, David sets out to achieve something with every cut. “My strength is going up the middle or the other way, so [in] the first rounds, I really work on keeping my hands inside the ball, trying to hit line drives to right center,” he says. “The last couple rounds, I try to hit the ball wherever it’s pitched and really try to let loose. I pretend like I’m in game situations where I’m thinking to myself, ‘bottom of the ninth, and I really need to drive this run in.’ I really try to focus each and every pitch on accomplishing something.”
Regarding technique, David knows his own swing inside and out. “For me, it’s all about timing and being quick. I want to make sure I get my stride foot down early. I want to make sure that I have a nice rhythm going, and I want to make sure I’m getting from this point to this point as quickly as possible. I don’t want to feel like it’s taking awhile for the bat barrel to get to the strike zone.”
Soft hands are great for fielding, but when it comes to wielding lumber, David seeks to harden up his meat hooks. “You want to get your hands in shape and get those calluses, so I take the most swings early on. I want to get comfortable handling the bat so that I can pull [the ball] when I want to pull it and hit it the other way if I want to. As we get further into spring training, we cut down on the volume and start working on specific things. Toward the end, I take about 50 swings total. If I can go in there and take 50 good, solid swings, where I feel comfortable going into the game, I’d rather do that than continuously hack and get into some bad habits.”
Coaching Points: Have specific focus for each pitch // Get stride foot down early // Try to get into rhythm // Focus on quick, short swing