Back when I was a boy, I used to collect baseball cards, and as such, I used to attend lots of baseball card shows. The mid-‘80s to ‘90s were the golden age of the baseball card industry and these shows were a big deal. When I lived in Bayside, Queens, they would have baseball card extravaganzas at the Adria Motor Inn. And later, in South Plainfield, NJ, they would take over the Middlesex Mall once a month. These shows were like walking through baseball card heaven, and God only knows how much money I (and my dad) spent amassing my very extensive collection.
Oftentimes at these events, they would have baseball players on hand to meet & greet with fans and sign autographs. Aside from having many tens of thousands of cards, I put together quite a collection of signatures and photos, ranging from no-names like Hensley Meulens, to personal favorites like David Cone, to legends like Mickey Mantle. I enjoyed meeting these players with a childlike sense of wonder -- but being a kid, I’m not sure I fully appreciated the experiences at the time.
It’s different nowadays, though. In my adult life, I’ve been fortunate to attend lots of movie premieres and things of that sort, which has allowed me to hobnob with movie stars like Bruce Willis and Paul Rudd -- and every single time, I find myself completely star-struck and reveling in the glory of the occasion.
But still... as much as I love movies, and as awesome as it is to meet movie stars on the red carpet... there’s nothing quite like meeting a real, live baseball player. Especially one that you once idolized. And so, tonight, when I met the legendary DWIGHT GOODEN, it was easily one of the biggest highlights on my surprisingly long list of my celebrity encounters.
How did this happen, you ask? Well, we can thank the power of social networking. Last night on Twitter, someone retweeted an announcement that Doc would be appearing at a place called Last Licks, a shop that sells -- wait for it -- ice cream AND sports collectibles (genius!) on the Upper East Side. All you had to do was buy an item for him to sign and you were good to go -- the actual autograph was free. So I went... and he was there... and it ruled. It wasn’t like the baseball card shows of yore where there were huge lines and they rushed you in and out as quickly as possible. This was a smaller, more intimate setting, and the crowd was not very large, so we actually got a few minutes to sit and chat.
I had a pretty fun conversation with Dwight Gooden, who, along with Darryl Strawberry and Gary Carter, was one of my favorite Mets of the ‘80s (and, indeed, of all time). When it was my turn, I shook his hand and handed him a ball to sign. First I congratulated him on his induction into the Mets Hall of Fame this past Sunday. I told him that I was there and that it was awesome to see him & the others on the field. He thanked me and said that it was fun to be there. I added that by the end of the game, we were kind of hoping that they’d give him a uniform. (The Mets were crushed 14-1 by the lowly Diamondbacks.) Doc laughed and agreed that it was a rough one.
I then went on to tell him that the first Mets game I ever attended was one that he pitched. The date was August 20, 1985, when I was 8 years old. Doc went the distance and shut out the Giants 3-0 and struck out SIXTEEN. Shea was rocking with every pitch, the K Corner was working overtime, and that was pretty much the moment I began bleeding orange & blue. Doc seemed impressed by the story and said that he actually remembered the game, which I thought was pretty damn cool.
Finally, I asked if I could get a picture with him, and he graciously agreed. Here is the result:
Look, I know Doc has had his problems over the years, and his career could have been so much more. Who even knows if he has completely cleaned up his act yet. All I know for sure is that on this night, at this baseball card shop, he was a class act, completely gracious and humble and a nice guy. And this battle-hardened Mets fan was awestruck because, for God’s sake... it was DWIGHT GOODEN! Doctor K! One of the biggest sports figures NYC (and thus, the world) has ever known! The man!
The other funny thing is, I actually met Gooden once before, in 1987 or so, at (you guessed it) a baseball card show. I got an autographed ball and shook his hand, and I may even have a photo somewhere of us shaking hands. So now I have two Dwight Gooden baseballs -- one from the height of his career, and one a few days after his Mets Hall of Fame induction. How poetic!
(P.S. Someday, perhaps over a drink or three, be sure to get me to tell the story (or sing the song) about the day I met Lenny Dykstra. THAT one’s a doozy....)