— Days Without Shea —

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We moved into Loge13 in 1985. This is how we remember Doc Gooden. Invincible. Nearly flawless every time out. People dancing in the upper deck pasting "K" after "K" to the rafters.

Doc and Darryl were my childhood heroes. We were convinced in later years, we'd look back at them as the Mantle and Whitey of our generation. Heck, the first time I ever went to Cooperstown was Gooden's rookie year, a few weeks after his All-Star game debut. And Gooden was already enshrined, as the youngest pitcher to ever strike out the side in the mid-summer classic.

But we all know what happened. Fast forward 25 years later and the Mets are going to enshrine Strawberry, Gooden and Frank Cashen in the Mets hall of fame this Sunday.

Also, the Mets are signing Doc to a one-day contract this weekend. When it expires, he will retire as a Met. There's a nice interview with Gooden in the Bergen Record. Check it out after the jump...

 

Dwight Gooden is keeping busy, a phone in his ear as he sits at a table signing autographs for Little Leaguers. He's in a hotel on this day, just days after he was signing autographs in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Keeping busy keeps the mind off of other things. There are the obvious things, the stories that still litter the police blotter section of the newspapers nearly as often as he used to fill up the sports pages. But there are additional thoughts that gnaw at him, things that you can't help but think about. In Cooperstown, he saw players - peers - honored and not one had more raw talent than Gooden. But he's not honored there and likely never will be.

For Gooden, Sunday's induction into the Mets' Hall of Fame is as good as it will get and it is a long time coming. But he is well aware that he made the path much longer on his own. Even as his troubles have surfaced - although he insists that the stories have another side - the Franklin Lakes arrest in March for allegedly driving under the influence of drugs and child endangerment or the recent claims by his wife that he had cut her out financially - and people close to him say it is not what it appears.

"A lot of stuff off the field I've been involved in -- it's my fault," Gooden said. "But I have a good heart. Fans know I'm a good person. That makes me feel good. Stuff that [came] out recently, false allegations with my wife, people look at the past and think, 'Oh yeah, sure,' but I haven't been found guilty of anything. Now I want to be happy, see my kids grow up. The person they talk about now, that's not me. They know my heart."

There always is someone to speak up for Gooden, those who know him insisting that a good heart beats beneath the sordid stories. And if Cooperstown never opens its doors to him, the Mets have.

He will sign a one-day contract Saturday at the Mets' Hall of Fame charity luncheon, allowing him to retire a Met - something he said he always wanted.

The drug problems that detoured his career ended his time with the Mets after 11 seasons. Suspended during the 1994 season and for all of the '95 season, Gooden wanted to return, but said there was no coming home at the time.

"When I came back in 1996 I wanted to sign with the Mets, but they didn't think it was appropriate," Gooden said. "Every time I signed with another team I tried."

But Gooden knows it's his fault. The cocaine and alcohol troubles broke hearts in the Mets' organization, where he had grown up. But once he was done playing, the door was opened by the Mets and Gooden resisted. He said other than coming to play with another team, he never stepped foot in Shea Stadium from 1994 until the close of the stadium.

"I was upset with myself, everything that took place," Gooden said. "I didn't know how I'd be accepted. I felt I let fans down, the organization down. I hadn't been back since '94. It just never worked out. At Shea Goodbye, I was iffy whether I could go. Now, I see what I've been missing all the time. I wish I spent more time there."

The door was opened again when Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon called him and told him he was going to be inducted into the Mets' Hall of Fame, the induction to take place Sunday afternoon at Citi Field, going in with Darryl Strawberry, Davey Johnson and Frank Cashen. Maybe once Gooden wouldn't have felt ready to be a part of that, but now he is cherishing the opportunity.

"Even with the numbers I had, it still doesn't seem real," Gooden said. "It's definitely a closing to my career. Obviously, the stuff off the field shortened my career, but this gives me a lot of closure, makes you feel you did do enough.

"The biggest thing is I get to share it with the fans that meant so much to me. Coming back for Shea Goodbye, the ovation was overwhelming. I get teary-eyed thinking about it."

Tax-deductible tickets for the luncheon are available at 1-(718)-803-4074 and www.Mets.com/HallofFame




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