On Monday night during the SNY Mets telecast, lo, there was Dwight Gooden with a touch of gray, engaged in a terrific interview with Kevin Burkhardt. Dwight looked and sounded good. Clear-eyed, well-spoken, happy, modest, and authentic. I found myself liking him, hopeful for his future, and for the first time in many years, remembering the good times.
For a long time, we hadn’t seen or heard too much from Doc, especially nothing good. As recently as 2008, when the team was arranging for players to attend the last game at Shea, the rumblings were that Gooden might not be able to get himself to the game. Doc did make it that day, and he received a tremendous ovation from the fans.
You know, my heart hardened to Doc. He threw it all away and after a while, I just couldn’t feel much sympathy for him. But in the process, I lost something. I lost the memories. As fans, we loved him so much, rooted so hard, his games at Shea were such events, and it all became sullied by his subsequent ugly behavior.
The fall from grace for Gooden was far, and it was public. As a fan, it was hard not to feel a certain element of betrayal, as silly as that feels to type now.
One memory I have is of a two-hitter he threw against the Houston Astros. 1985 or ’86, somewhere around there. As the game at Shea progressed, my friends and I were able to weave our way down to better and better seats until, wow, by the 8th inning we were in the front row (!) behind the Astros dugout. I sat there feeling so appreciative to have that view of such an impressive pitcher. Dwight Gooden, right there, dealing.
Those first years with Gooden will always be my personal “golden years” as a fan. My first foray into season tickets was 1984, Doc’s rookie year. Terri and I hardly missed a start of his at Shea between 1984 and 1988. By late 1984 Gooden had hit a gear where every start of his was an event, something that continued all through 1985. When I think about how dominant he was during that period I am amazed he never threw a no-hitter for the Mets. It actually felt inevitable at the time.
With Dwight, the story arc just never worked out. It became about what never was, what could have been. A story of waste, drugs, fallen innocence. I closed my heart to him after a while. Not a good guy, I thought. But as I watched him on TV the other night, I felt a part of my heart open up to Dwight again, quite unexpectedly. I was moved and, as I said up top, I remembered the remarkable athlete I once so enjoyed and admired..
Last year I started seeing Tweets from Doc, he started doing his own social media version of the “K-Corner” for Matt Harvey. It was fun to see from him, and a good sign that he was in a good place, enjoying the game of baseball as a fan.
I am newly curious about his book, which I haven’t read. For a long time, I just didn’t want to go there. And the truth is, I’ve long thought of him as a deceitful person. Full of lies and half-truths. It came with the package. I’m not sure he’s the guy who can ever possibly tell the real story. That said, I’ve added the title to my reading list. It gets to join the big stack. I’m ready to close old wounds. Let the healing begin, my brothers and sisters! Can I get an “Amen!”
BTW, Joe D over at Metsmerized — who does such a great job with that behemoth of a blog — gave an open, heartfelt review of Doc a while back.