Old friends reunite on first-place battlefield

With the Mets in town and just five games separating first and last place in the NL East, the Nationals don’t have to be reminded of the importance of every divisional series. Tuesday’s 12-inning grind-it-out win proved Ian Desmond’s proclamation, “We’ve packed our lunch.”

Amber Theoharis talks with Ian Desmond about the importance of the Mets series

But the Mets are ready to work also. They too feel the divisional pinch.

“Every divisional game is so critical especially when you come on the road to play a team who’s playing so well. We know we’re going to get their best and we’re going to try to match that,” Mets third baseman David Wright said.

But among the heated battle for first place is a long-time friendship composed of hot-corner brethren. When Wright looks in the opposing dugout, he doesn’t see a bitter rival. Instead, he’s thankful to play in the same division as childhood friend Ryan Zimmerman. Each series is a chance to catch up.

“We’ve become so close off the field. We try to have friendly competition on the field, but also, we genuinely root for each other when our teams aren’t playing each other,” Wright said.

The two met as teenagers playing on the same travel team in the Virginia Beach, Va., area. There must have been something in that tide-water because also on that team was Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton and Baltimore’s Mark Reynolds. Talk about a loaded roster.

“David was always a year, two years older than me. Growing up, he was always the guy I’d look up,” Zimmerman said. “It’s been fun to see how each of our careers has grown.”

Zimmerman was a first-round pick (fourth overall) of the Nationals in 2005 out of the University of Virginia. Wright was drafted out of high school, going in the first round (38th overall) in 2001.

Both players soon found themselves the faces of their respective ballclubs, a position long removed from the high school fields of Virginia Beach.

“Both organizations put us in the forefront from the beginning,” Zimmerman said. “Not that that’s a bad thing or anything like that, but we’ve gone through a lot of the same ups and downs. He’s been hurt a little bit. We’ve had to battle through some things. I have. So I guess you could say we’ve kind of gone through the same things.”

Common experience, common background, and an admiration for each other’s skill set has built a mutual respect.

“He’s a tremendous third baseman,” Wright said. “He’s a great leader and the face of the franchise, so when I go out there and watch him play, I try to learn as much as I can.”

Said Zimmerman: “He’s loyal. He’s very even-keeled. You’d never know if he’s hitting .400 or .200, and those are the kind of guys you want on your team and in your organization. No matter who comes in, everyone can learn from him and kind of learn what it takes to be a good player.”

Zimmerman and Wright have exceeded becoming just good players, and both have hit big paydays.

Wright is entering the final year of a six-year deal with the Mets, who have a $16 million club option. The third baseman is having an MVP-caliber season, so you can be sure the club will exercise that option and then negotiate an extension. So he has an ever bigger payday on the horizon. Meanwhile, Zimmerman just signed a six-year, $135 million deal with the Nationals.

That means $190-million is being made between these old friends. $190 million. I wonder how many gloves that would buy for their old all-star team? If they come up short, Upton and Reynolds can always pitch in.