Everyone who knows The Coop knows that one of the major reasons I am a Mets fan is because when I was eight years old, I saw one Dwight Eugene Gooden (aka "Doc") pitch at Shea Stadium. I never saw the team win in the first year I attended games at Shea, but I did know that Doc was special. To me, he was a "grown up." To people like my dad and Uncle Gene, he was a "kid." Looking back, at 19, he was in over his head but seemed to understand what it took to win the game. Who knows? If not for Doc, I may not have been a Mets fan or even stayed a Mets fan as long as I have. He was truly the reason why I stuck around all these years. Perhaps we'd see another phenom like him. Perhaps we'd have special moments like those games in 1984. All I know is, he was one of a kind.
Turns out, he's human. Shortly after the Mets World Series win in 1986, he was sent to rehab. How dare Dick Young, bastard who once ran another former phenom out of town years before, suggested we boo Doc Gooden in his first game back. I say, boo Dick Young. And still when Doc fell to demons later on, several times in the public eye, it was more of a...shame. Poor Doc. Can't get clean. Time to move on.
Then there was Darryl Strawberry. Again, when I was a Shea-rookie, Straw-man (or D-Man, which was another name Dad and I gave him, based on an affectionate name I had for my own dad), was hitting the shit out of the ball. It was also funny. As a seven year old, when I heard his name, I couldn't help but giggle. "STRAW-berry? That's funny." I called him Darryl Blueberry in 1984. Hey, I was eight. Small things amused me. So did "Strawberry Sundae Night," a promotional night hosted in 1984 by Carvel. By the time I realized that night was going on, it was too late for my dad to take me to Shea. It's something I always wished I had gone to though.
Darryl was also human. I remember being 10 and hearing about how he "reportedly" hit his wife (which we now know is true). Once he left New York, hardly lived up to the level he was in New York. Drugs were a big part of it, but we always rooted for Darryl. Yeah, was part of "the enemy" in the Bronx, but he was a cancer survivor, a survivor, period.
I remember in 2001, though, he was on the run from the law. There was some warrant out for his arrest, and I remember being in Florida when that happened. Irony, as there was a camera man doing interviews for the local news in Tampa, when Darryl was working for the Yankees. I said, "If I were the Yankees, I wouldn't give him another chance."
Fortunately, Darryl thought he was worth another chance. Part of addiction is needing a support system to get clean, but that's part of it. He needs to WANT to get clean. If that doesn't happen, interventions mean nothing. Luckily, Darryl found his version of God (depending on who you ask in the 12-step program, "GOD" can stand for "Group-of-Drunks") and has been clean since then.
And since then, he and Doc triumphantly returned to the Mets organization. And the fans welcomed them both back as well.
Darryl and Doc should have been the cornerstone of several great Mets teams, a dynasty perhaps. Being so young, being so vulnerable and not to mention being children of the '80s, they fell to certain demons. Robert DeNiro said in Bronx Tale, "There's nothing worse than wasted talent." That was certainly our feeling, regarding Doc and Darryl. They coulda been, as Marlon Brando once said, contendas.
Over the years, our attachment was a fond memory of Doc and Darryl. And then the Mets announced something spectacular...The Mets were returning to Mets Hall of Fame inductions, and Doc and Darryl were going to be part of it!!!
We knew they wouldn't make the HOF in Cooperstown. But they were Hall-of-Famers to us with the fond memories surrounding them.
I saw Straw in Port St. Lucie this year. And there was something genuine, an aura of being thankful with him. No fan, young or old, big or small, was turned away from an autograph or a picture, when he clearly needed to be someplace else. My chest could not be more puffed out with pride, as I knew he was taking everything one day at a time, thankful for this chance he has with the organization he has freely admitted he wronged.
Part of addiction is forgiveness. Darryl Strawberry asked for it, in his own special way, and we gave it to him. Part of addiction is wanting to be clean, and having his support network. Every day is a struggle. We may not feel it ourselves or it may not seem evident to the outsider, it may seem effortless but let it be known...I'm sure every day, he struggles.
Sorry to say, it's more of the same for Doc. When I heard his latest dalliance with the law, I just sighed. That's all I can do. When I saw Doc at a Modell's caravan last year, that puffed-out-pride thing was not fully there but I did feel like Doc had clearly jumped a hurdle. He was now welcomed back into the Mets fold and therefore, with the fans again. If he wanted to get clean, we would now support him.
His addictions seem to have won the best of him again. I hate to make a generalization, but with addicts, it's true. You are never a "former" addict. You are ALWAYS one. You can be recovering, but it's always present and future tense, never past.
If Doc wanted to get clean, we'd be there for him. But therein lies the issue. He's not ready. He will not get clean until he absolutely is. Until then, it's hurry up and wait.
I know that the night he returned from rehab in 1987, the fans did stand up and cheer, for I was in the stands with my dad, and I was ready to forgive, even at 11 years old. The feeling in 1987 was different. The mountain had been climbed the year before, and the rest was all gravy. 1987 was not our year. 1988 was not either. And for Darryl and Doc, individual glories would fall to them at times. With the Mets though, it always fell short. But they were ours, addictions or no, warts and all.
To err is human. To forgive is a Mets fan. Doc will be there in August, for his Mets Hall of Fame induction. And I will probably be there with tears in my eyes again, like I did that night in 1987, waiting for my favorite homegrown Met to return to the mound where he rightly belonged.