Doc Gooden waves to the crowd during the final game played at Shea Stadium. Gooden will be at the Amsterdam Baseball/Mohawks Hall of Fame dinner at St. Mary's Institute on Saturday night.
By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
When legendary Major League Baseball pitcher Dwight "Doc" Gooden speaks at Saturday's Amsterdam Baseball/Mohawks Baseball Hall of Fame Dinner, he knows many will be interested in hearing about more than just the 2,293 strikeouts he compiled in his 16-year career.
After a spectacular start to his career -- Gooden was the National League's Rookie of the Year in 1984 and the league's Cy Young winner in 1985 -- the Tampa, Fla. native's name became more closely associated with various drug charges and transgressions than winning games.
But that Saturday's audience might want to hear about Gooden's troubles with substance abuse -- notably, the right-handed pitcher used alcohol and cocaine -- is not something that causes the former New York Met and Yankee any alarm.
"Not really," he says. "For me, I look at [talking about my drug history] as therapy ... because it's a reminder for me to let me know that if I let my guard down, these things happen."
In fact, the troubles in Gooden's past are not a taboo topic with the pitcher at all. Rather, Gooden is quick to bring up his struggles and says those pains from his past -- Gooden's most-recent scrape with the law came in 2010, when he was charged with DWI -- are a staple of his stump speech at events like Saturday's. At speaking engagements, he says, he wants to help inspire those who might dealing with their own demons to seek help.
"For me, the biggest thing that kept leading me down the road of destruction ... is thinking I could do this thing by myself, instead of asking for help," says Gooden. "When you're in recovery, it's about talking about feelings.
"You can get better and you can still enjoy yourself -- and probably even enjoy yourself more," adds Gooden. "But it takes work and time."
Add patience to that list, too. When asked, Gooden says the most enjoyable thing going in his life is coaching his son, 8-year-old Dylan, in baseball each year.
"If I can get him to listen to me a little bit more, it would be even better," jokes Gooden. "But it's cool and I really enjoy it. ... At that age, they all want to hit. But when you try to teach them about running the bases, what base to throw to ... or getting them to pay attention to game details, that's when it gets very challenging. That's when they're hitting each other and throwing grass up in the air."
Gooden says some of the kids on the team know his baseball expertise goes a bit beyond being Dylan's parent, but that he's just "Coach" to all of them. He pitches batting practice to the team most days during the season and says he's excited for the 2013 season to get going in a couple months after the way last year's campaign ended; after a slow start to the season, the club made it to the championship game.
"We made a lot of progress along the way, which is what you want at that age," says Gooden, whose team is made up of 7-, 8- and 9-year olds.
When not coaching at the field, Gooden runs a baseball academy and still does appearances for the Mets and Yankees, teams for which Gooden won 181 games -- and, while the 48-year-old has been out of professional baseball for more than a decade, his old league still has his full attention.
"I love baseball. It's still in my heart," he says.
Gooden says the upcoming few weeks of the baseball calendar are some of his favorites. He is a big fan of the World Baseball Classic and is ready for spring training to start so that he can see everything that's new with the league.
"Right now, I'm definitely counting down until spring training," Gooden says.