Wigginton Takes Nothing For Granted

The Mets had been in camp for less than a week, but a large pile of mail was waiting in his locker when third baseman Ty Wigginton walked into the clubhouse one day. Felt-tip pen in hand, he methodically opened the envelopes, signed the enclosed baseball cards, then sealed them in the self-addressed stamped envelopes smart autograph seekers enclose.

"One guy in Arizona sends me a few cards every week," Wigginton said. "He must be selling them. Maybe I am famous." Not famous, perhaps, but certainly established.

Wigginton played in 156 games last season, three shy of the team record for rookies set by Lee Mazzilli in 1977. He hit .255 with 11 home runs and a team-best 71 RBI. He also stole 12 bases. "Nobody knew who he was in spring training last season," Mets infield coach Matt Galante said. "Now he's our third baseman, no questions asked."

Wigginton did not exactly revel in his success. His major offseason purchase was a used boat. That's right, used. "It's an all-around lake boat. Nothing special, a 19-footer," Wigginton said. "I also paid off my car. I was making payments on that since 2002, so that was nice to do. Living large isn't for me."

Whenever he considers a spending spree, Wigginton recalls that he had $4 in his pocket when he reported for spring training in 2002. A career minor leaguer, he survived off the money that his wife, Angela, made working at a department store makeup counter.

"You don't get paid during spring training, and we used the meal money for rent," he said. "The other guys would ask me to go out to McDonald's, and I would go home and eat Ramen noodles."

A year later, the Mets let Edgardo Alfonzo walk, failed to sign any free agents and handed the job to Wigginton almost by default. His only competition was Jay Bell, whom the Mets lured out of retirement. Wigginton beat him out easily. "I still don't feel comfortable," Wigginton said. "I go out there every day thinking somebody is trying to take my job."

That is wise considering the best offensive prospect in the organization is 21-year-old third baseman David Wright. The Mets also plan to try heavy-hitting Victor Diaz at third. "I know the Mets are always going to look to improve. That is their job," Wigginton said. "But I don't feel like I've showed everything I can do."

A late season slump drove down Wigginton's statistics last summer. At the time, he blamed only himself. But after arriving at spring training he admitted to playing the final four months of the season with a shoulder injury. "I hurt it in Milwaukee in May, and I had to shut it down in terms of lifting weights," he said. "It was either that or I wasn't going to be able to throw the ball across the field."

Team doctors found no structural problem, only inflammation that has since cleared up. "I'm used to lifting all season and maintaining my strength," Wigginton said. "I think my power numbers should improve this season because of that. I can see myself with 40 doubles and 20 home runs. I know the pitchers better, the parks better and the whole routine better. That's going to make me a better hitter because I will adjust faster. Now that I am here I want to stay here awhile."

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