SAFE AT HOME: Jamey Wright Reflects on Baseball, Life, and FamilyMay 04, 2021
Jamey Wright's favorite t-shirt has seen better days. The classic gray Oklahoma Sooner shirt is barely hanging together.
"It has maybe one or two washings left in it, and then it's probably just going to disappear," said Wright.
Over the last 14 or so years of his 19-year career in major league baseball, that Boomer Sooner shirt was his go-to choice for workouts.
"It got to be part of my armor, I guess you'd say," said Wright. "It was the first thing I put on when I got to the ballpark. It got washed every day. Guys still ask me about that t-shirt if I still have it. I do."
That t-shirt, in some ways, mirrors Wright's tenacity, not just as a professional baseball player but also as a husband, a father, a friend, and a Westmoore Jaguar.
The Westmoore alum is back home in Oklahoma in a new role as the pitching coach for the Oklahoma City Dodgers. Wright says one of the benefits of this latest phase of his baseball career is that he's now able to take time to savor the best moments of his life.
"I was always kind of pitching for my baseball life over the last 10 or 12 years," said Wright. "So, I didn't take time to reflect. Now I've got the time to think about what a crazy, fun journey it's been."
Wright enjoyed a long career at the game's highest level as a MLB player, playing for teams that included the Colorado Rockies, St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Texas Rangers, and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But those who knew him best from his days as a star Westmoore baseball player say that even though he reached the loftiest of heights, he never lost touch with who he was.
"He never forgot where he was from," said former Westmoore coach and athletic director John Burruss. "Through all the fame and fortune, he has always embodied our favorite saying, 'Once a Jaguar, always a Jaguar.' He's always been 'Jamey.' Always humble and hard-working."
Wright remembers his years growing up in South OKC and Moore as a time of great friendship and support that helped form his character.
"I had the greatest support system you could imagine," said Wright. "Moore and Westmoore was such a great place to grow up because it's filled with great people, and it felt like everyone had each other's backs. My best friend's parents were like my own parents. It was almost like we each had 3, 4, or 5 moms and dads supporting us."
Wright's family, along with the family of Marnie, his wife, still live in the Oklahoma City area. He says that the families are incredibly close, and trips back to spend time together are always refreshing.
"We've lived all over the place," said Wright. "But every time we come back home to visit, there's such a calmness about everything. There are so many great childhood memories. It's people like Coach Burruss, Coach McIntire, Coach Finn, and so many others I remember at Westmoore who impacted me in such a huge way. Those guys made such a difference in my life, and I find myself hoping that my kids are surrounded with people like that."
As passionate as he is about baseball, Wright's voice takes on a more robust tone when he talks about his wife and family.
"I've been in love with my wife since the first time I ever saw her," said Wright. "Nothing's ever changed about that. I mean, it takes a special woman to be a baseball wife and mom. Life just kind of revolves around the baseball schedule, and she has always risen to that challenge."
As his kids have grown up, Wright says he has taken tremendous joy in being a father and pouring himself into their lives and in support of his wife.
"I know how difficult it is for my wife to raise three kids when I'm on the road," said Wright. "So, when the season is over, I'm the one that's in there getting the kids up, getting them fed and dressed for school, picking them up from school. And I love doing those things to help lighten the load for her."
Wright has spent the past two months in Arizona with the Oklahoma City Dodgers preparing for the minor league season in May. He was scheduled to fly out of Dallas on February 14th when Marnie suggested he might want to leave early because of an ice storm headed their way.
"I flew out, and sure enough, the storm hit, and we know all about the power outages and stuff that happened," said Wright. "My wife sent me pictures of my kids wrapped up in blankets, huddled by the fire, and of course, I feel like I'm about two inches tall. Here I was out in Phoenix in 74-degree temperatures…so it was kind of like, 'Sorry about your bad luck with the storm!'"
Aside from a one-week trip break, Wright and the Dodgers have been hard at work preparing for the upcoming season. Wright's role as the AAA team's pitching coach fits well with how he has always approached baseball. Even as a player, he was always looking for ways to help his teammates improve.
"I think the most gratifying thing about my baseball career is the friendships and the guys I got to play with," said Wright. "For me, it was a thrill watching some of my teammates and best friends turn into superstars and realize that I was able to play a role in their success by helping motivate or encourage them. That's always been pretty special to me."
Also included among those memories are a couple of games that he could share with his friends and family.
"My debut in Colorado was pretty special," said Wright. "There were about 30 people who flew in from Oklahoma City. There was also the first time we made the playoffs by clinching a wild card game against Texas in Texas. I had a bunch of friends and family there for that game, too."
And then there was the moment before a game against Detroit when he played for the Milwaukee Brewers. Wright came downstairs to check out of the hotel and found himself face-to-face with boxing legend Muhammed Ali.
"It was just the two of us there in the lobby, and I mean, I freaked out," said Wright. "I went over and started talking to him, and he was showing me magic tricks. He had like the handkerchief and the fake thumb and everything."
Wright had a disposable camera with him and asked if he could get a picture with Ali, who agreed and then set up a pose that left a lifelong impression.
"His assistant took the camera, and Ali grabbed my hand and told me to make a fist," said Wright. "He pulled my fist up and popped himself in the chin with it. And then he reared back like he was going to club me. It was great to have that kind of special moment with him."
Now, as he adjusts to his new role as a pitching coach in Oklahoma City, Wright says he gets as excited about helping this team and the players who are on the path he once traveled. It's especially exciting coming off of a pandemic year that saw the cancellation of the entire minor league season.
"I'm really excited for these guys," said Wright. "Some of these guys have been trying to keep their focus for an entire year. They've been throwing baseballs into the nets and just looking for a way to work. That's gonna show up on the field, the ones who did the work and the guys who didn't."
Wright says he's not sure he could have handled the challenge of a season-long shutdown, especially when he thinks about a conversation he had with his good friend, Clayton Kershaw when the 2020 season was shut down after spring training.
"Kershaw told me he was worried about having any motivation to work out without having a season," said Wright. "I thought, 'Oh my God! This is Clayton Kershaw, maybe the hardest worker I've ever been around in my life, and if he's having a problem with motivation, the rest of us mortals are in real trouble!'"
But you don't last 19 years in professional baseball without a serious work ethic. And that work ethic, paired with an innate desire to help others succeed at the highest level, would seem to mean Wright is adding another chapter about a tenacious kid who grew up balancing a lot of athletic talent with an attitude of humility and hard work. It's a story that he can now reflect on with great appreciation for all that he has now and all that came before.
"I've always had strong men and women in my life, parents, coaches, and friends, who have looked out for me and helped get the most out of me," said Wright. "I'm forever grateful for that and for my wife and kids. Now I want to mentor and help our guys out and help them find the best version of themselves that they can. That's what I love to do."