Human beings are hard-wired to seek out stories. Stories explain our world. Stories, usually the “feel good” stories, help us get out of bed in the morning.
Part of sports’ massive appeal hinges not on the statistics, the wins and losses, but the stories. Unfortunately, most sports’ stories are contrived, cliched and full of embellishments.
Take this one, for example.
A kid from Akron, Ohio, grows up to be one of the best basketball players in the history of the game. He then decides to return to Cleveland, where his state’s beleaguered franchise hadn’t won a championship in 51 years and vows to bring one home.
Then in the NBA finals the next season, the hometown hero leads his team back from 3-1 deficit against the best regular season team in history to claim the title for the people of Cleveland.
Of course, what is left out from the story is the fact that LeBron James has set the bar for what it means to be The World’s Biggest D-Bag throughout his career. Even John Mayer struggles to float at LeBron’s level of douchiness.
Yet if you were to search for LeBron’s antithesis—The Bizarro LeBron—it can be argued that he can be found pitching in Boston right now, and pitching pretty damn well.
So far in 2016, Steven Wright’s story is the real “feel good” story of the year. For all of the ostentation and ego-stroking you get from an athlete like LeBron, Wright is a modern Siddhartha. And that’s part of the appeal of Wright’s story: he presents himself as laid back as Buddhist monk, as well as a pillar of humility.
Wright’s story, however, isn’t sensational or all-too uncommon, especially for a knuckleball pitcher, but the fact that the main character is this particular guy makes it amazing.
The story starts with Wright, 31, who bounced around in the minor leagues for five years. In the past three seasons, he had a few calls up to the big leagues with Boston. This season, he wasn’t expected to make the starting rotation but a knee injury to Eduardo Rodriguez opened a position in the rotation, and Wright fell into it.
Since then he’s been arguably the best pitcher in the American League, posting a 2.01 ERA, the best in the AL and fifth in the MLB behind the usual list of the starting pitcher uber-studs from the NL—Kershaw, Arrieta, Bumgarner, Syndergaard. Wright, who is earning $357,000, has become the Red Sox co-ace with David Price, who the Sox are paying a cool $31 million.
But, as I mentioned, Wright’s story is character-driven. And there’s not a lot to dislike about the California-native’s disposition, his calmness and respect for others and the game. Wright joined Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and WEEI broadcasters at the Negro League’s Baseball Museum in Kansas City in April. According to a profile in The Boston Herald, Wright says he strives to always keep his temper in check and ascribes to and practices the concepts of kindness, empathy and patience.
Therefore, anyone who is not rooting for Steven Wright to start for the AL 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego and go on to capture a Cy Young officially sucks. Because this is a “feel good” story.
Sure, the knuckleball is a fickle wench and it could turn on Wright at any moment. But either way, Wright will have this under control, he’ll remain calm. The Dude abides.