PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- It was a brilliant spring morning Tuesday on Florida's Treasure Coast, with puffy white clouds in the sky and temperatures warming to the mid-80s. It was the type of day that used to see David Wright bouncing about the back fields in a well-worn orange T-shirt, laughing and joking with anyone in earshot.
But on Tuesday, Wright was nowhere to be found, confined to his current life of indoor physical therapy and batting cages. Wright hopes that doctors will soon clear him for fielding drills, the final step in his offseason progression. Only then will he be back in the sunshine, testing out that surgically-repaired neck, that balky back and that 34-year-old body everyone is so worried about.
The truth is, Wright does not know how healthy he can be in 2017. Neither Mets manager Terry Collins nor his training staff have a magic formula to keep Wright healthy. But through the trial and error of the past half-decade, the Mets are going to work their hardest to make sure Wright -- still the captain, still the face of the franchise, even if others around Flushing now eclipse him in star power -- stays on the field as much as possible in '17.
"It's pretty hard for me to sit here and say that I know what to expect," Collins said. "Because I don't."
That means no prescribed number of regular-season games nor Spring Training at-bats. After Wright underwent neck surgery this past June, compounding the spinal stenosis issue he was already battling, the Mets stopped putting expectations on their longest-tenured player.
At this point, they'll take anything they can get.
"The only thing I can do about it now is work as hard as I can to get back to what I think I'm capable of doing on the field," Wright said of missing 249 games over the past two seasons. "It's no fun to lose a couple years of significant playing time. I really enjoyed being out there, and it really pains me to have had to watch the last couple of the years, the majority of the years from the bench. I don't think any competitor wants to have to do that.
"It's provided plenty of motivation -- not that I needed any more -- for the workouts, for the rehab, to get back to going out there and having fun and watching these guys. Of course you're thrilled for the organization, you're thrilled for your teammates, you're thrilled for your friends to go to the playoffs. But you want to be out there with them. You don't want to watch it. You want to have an impact -- especially being here as long as I've been here."
The Mets feel they've learned things about Wright along the way. Unlike this past spring, when the third baseman's plan of resting his body deeper into the winter resulted in a March 18 Grapefruit League debut, the Mets now feel he'll benefit more from an early introduction to game action. This spring, the Mets will ease Wright into exhibitions, inserting him into the lineup early but infrequently.
As always, Wright and Collins will keep their respective lines of communication open. No ache is too small to prompt worry, no soreness too slight.
"We've had enough conversations in the last three weeks down here that I know where he's coming from," Collins said. "Now I've got to be able to take that and blend it into the workouts and not overdo it with him, but make sure he's included, because he is still the captain. And he needs to be out there."
A return to health, the Mets insist, is no pipe dream. Asked if at any point in the past two seasons he thought his career might be coming to an end, Wright -- who is under contract through 2020 for another $67 million guaranteed -- frowned.
"No," he said. "No, no, no. … I've never thought of it that way. This is a fun time to be a Met. And I want to be a part of this winning season that I think we're going to have."
Anthony DiComo has covered the Mets for MLB.com since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyDiComo and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.