That pivotal decision led to one of the greatest blessings of Wright’s life. Near the end of his second season in 1995, he was at church when he met an impressive girl named Annica. Despite his having shaved his head the night before, there was chemistry between them. They began dating and a few months later during spring training, they became engaged. The couple was married in the Salt Lake Temple in September 1996.
“She’s an incredible woman,” Wright said. “The gratification of my marriage has been, by far, more than I could have had by playing any amount of baseball at any level.”
Wright, a 6-foot-1, 230-pound slugger, displayed a remarkable talent for hitting the ball as he crushed 68 home runs in his first two full minor league seasons. Some soared as high as the stadium lights and as far as 500-plus feet.
At that point, Wright’s future was so promising that the Pittsburgh Pirates traded one of their top pitchers, Denny Neagle, to the Braves for Wright and Jason Schmidt. Wright, penciled in as the Pirates’ first baseman for the next decade, was called up to the “bigs” in September 1997. At the time he had a sore wrist, so he didn’t play, but the organization wanted him to taste the future.
Things took an unexpected turn, however, in the spring of 1998. The Pirates considered putting Wright on their opening-day roster, but opted for another infielder. During his first week with Class AAA Nashville, Wright was stretching when he felt pain in his back. He was loaded into an ambulance and taken to the hospital. The injury required surgery to remove a disk in his back. During the operation, damage was done to his sciatic nerve, leaving numbness in his right leg for the rest of his life.
Wright missed the 1998 season and wasn’t fully healed at the start of the 1999 season. He was still a good baseball player, but he couldn’t generate the power in his right leg, making a long career in the majors more doubtful.
“There were times when I would be walking along and almost fall down because my right leg would catch on me and it wouldn’t work. You’re a can’t-miss prospect one day and after a bummed operation you’re suspect the next. I was never, ever the same,” Wright said. “That’s when you have to draw close to God, family and things that matter. Otherwise it will make you a bitter person.”
But Wright was not ready to give up on his major league dream. At a time when many players were using steroids to bulk up, Wright patiently worked his way back without taking shortcuts.
“My 10 years was a big time for steroids. I sat there and watched guys sell their honor and everything else down the drain,” Wright said. “The church played a huge role in helping me understand what’s important, and knowing there was a bigger plan for me than to make money.”
For the next three seasons, Wright played ball in Durham, N.C.; Akron, Ohio; Greenville, S.C.; Altoona, Penn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Toledo, Ohio; and Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Two days after one daughter was born in Chattanooga, Tenn., in 2000, the family had to move to Louisville, Ky. There were a few minor setbacks, including the time he chased a foul ball into a wall and hurt his leg again. But he endured.
In the spring of 2002, Wright was playing for Tacoma, the Class AAA affiliate of the Seattle Mariners, when he got on a hitting streak. After a game in Des Moines, Iowa, he received some good news.
Tacoma manager Dan Rohn delivered the message that Seattle slugger Edgar Martinez had ruptured a hamstring tendon and Wright needed to jump on the first plane to Texas. Five years after his first trip to the majors, he was going back. When the shock wore off, he called his family with the news. He told his parents there was no rush to get to Texas — he would be there a while.
Wright remained on the bench for two games before a teammate was injured during batting practice. Wright was inserted as the designated hitter.
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