I stood across a VFW issued table and asked a boyhood idol for his signature. I'll never forget being 8 years old and just getting into the grandest of games. I didn't know shit about race-relations, drugs, booze, or any of that. Just remember watching a 19 year old completely dominate and Ralph Kiner saying, "there are 52,000 here at Shea on a Tuesday night for only one reason".
This 'reason' was now in front of me, hand extended, across the street from the Hall in Cooperstown. I am now 35 (wrote this July, 2011) and that teenage reason of yore is 46 and quite friendly. He was there with his wife and a baby girl no older than a year.
"Doc, I tell ya, this is unreal for me. You are one of my heroes as a kid. Hope you are well and I am always in your corner". That's all I could muster up. A little corny and dripping cliché, but heartfelt and surprisingly no stuttering or nerves on my part. "Thanks man, I really appreciate that, I really do". He then stands up out of his chair to shake my hand again and as he is firmly gripping my now trembling hand, looks right into my eyes and says, "God bless you man and thank you". All I could return was a simple, "you too Doc".
Back in 1984 if someone told me I would be talking with Dwight Gooden 27 years down the road in front of the Hall of Fame, I would have thought he was getting inducted. More accurately, as an 8 year old, I probably would have figured I would have been his teammate. I was going to play Centerfield for the Mets or the Yankees. But some Goddamn poison got into Doc's body and he became ill. He lost touch with reality and bended under the pressures of being so young and owning New York City. I remember the biggest billboard I have still yet ever seen was in Times Square of Doc raring back to fire a heater that would have made Bob Marley blush. The man, make that kid, was The Man. He was The Man on top of a world he could have folded up and put in his back pocket. Scary good. Scarier young.
The demons befell Doc. The demons have befallen me as well. 27 years ago I never would have thought I had more in common with Dr.K than I do. But I do. I can't throw 97 MPH or make a ball break 2 feet and paint black. I can't go 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA. I'm not a black dude. I'm not even married nor a father. But I am ill as well. I felt that unity of addiction in his handshake. I saw the Well of Despair in the dark bucket of his eyes. Not sure if he saw the same in me. Perhaps he sensed it. We both looked a little disappointed. Him at himself and me at Him as well.
But the strength of his words to me made me understand that my bottles and his powder were nowhere near that VFW issued table and folding chair. He like me now is a man. A son of some mother and the hope of all futures. The would be conquerors of life's endless war on temptation. It(temptation ) has been with all of us since the days of Apples and Ribs. All Man face the same obstacles in life. Some come around a little later and have created an excellent level of atonement for most to see. That's what I hope I am beginning now. As I also want some past mistakes obliterated from thought. Mine and all.
Back in 1984 we were both kids. Now we are men. Two men with not a squat of shit in common except for regretful decision making. Many decisions I have regretted for many years now, and I am sure Doc's been doing his share of second-guessing, but instilling some integrity into life is not one of them. Least not for me. Nor is walking up to a VFW issued table and shaking hands with a man a lot more like me then I ever could dream of. It happened and it is real. Too real. Makes me proud to think of atonement or redemption. Makes me want to have a Doc in My corner.