We have seen so much written about the Mets this off-season and many fans ask where is the next leader of the clubhouse now that the David Wright era is over. I have thought so much about that the past few days and one name keeps entering my mind —Michael Conforto.
I covered the entire career of David Wright from day 1 to that final day this past September, and the similarities are striking to me.
Both came up in the middle of the season to debut in the big leagues and both took playing time away from an active Met. In Wright’s case it was Ty Wigginton and in Conforto’s case it was Michael Cuddyer. In addition to Cuddyer, Conforto had great leadership examples he could follow in Wright, Kelly Johnson, Juan Uribe, and Daniel Murphy. David had similar voices in that room that helped him in players like Cliff Floyd, Mike Piazza, John Franco, and Joe McEwing.
Both learned from all of those players that playing the game is important, but so is dealing with the media on an everyday and honest basis. In 2015, Conforto also saw the harsh realities of the game getting a first-hand view of the Wilmer Flores night and how things in the sport can change in an instant flash. That year, I really got to know Conforto, as we spent numerous days talking about the game and not just about today’s world. He readily understood about the history of the game and more precisely, the history of the organization that he played for wanting to hear my recollections of Tom Seaver, Piazza, Gooden, and Darryl Strawberry.
You could readily tell he was mature beyond his years.
But I believe, I got to know the real Conforto when times got tough for him as he slumped in 2016 then tweaked his approach and became an All-Star in 2017. Later in that year, when he got hurt you could feel the disappointment in his voice, but you knew he would get back as quickly as possible.
Even with the struggles he had in early 2018, he never made excuses and always took the approach that anything worth achieving is worth trying. His second half effort was a testimony to that effort and make no mistake–he is one talented pure hitter and his effort is 100% always whether he is at the plate, in the outfield or on the bases.
On David Wright night, I talked to him about the possibility of being a team leader and he was very honest with me. He said, “Rich you know me very well–better than most–and who would not want to be a leader here but I have to earn that right and not just with words. Supporting your teammates is something I learned in this place from some of the best leaders in the sport. The key word I learned is honesty and sometimes that is hard but you can’t waver from that one bit whether you are talking to fellow teammates or the media as well.”
Brandon Nimmo concurs with that notion and told me so many times guys like Conforto and Jay Bruce helped him early in his career to not worry about the playing time you are not receiving–that is a waste of time. Focusing on the playing time you get, is where your entire attention should be all the time. That may sound trite or corny but it is easier said than done. We are all professionals in one way and although we are not in the eye of camera ALWAYS when we perform, sometimes we act like that is all we care about.
I learned from watching Conforto that notion is an utter waste of time because critics will always exist and worrying about them only takes the time away from the daily focus you need to do the best job you can do every single day. And that my friends is leadership. I saw it from Keith Hernandez and Gary Carter in the mid-80’s and from Piazza, Robin Ventura, Al Leiter and Franco in the late 90’s. And from Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, Wright and Pedro Martinez in the Willie Randolph years.
To me David Wright’s leadership was the best I ever saw because it was never about him–it was about helping the younger player. He always dealt one-on-one with the individual and never in a group. He forged relationships where things like a language barrier could have obstructed the connection. And I see that in Michael Conforto.
The value of that type of leader is as the MasterCard commercial says, “Priceless.”