Sports

Dwight Gooden getting ‘surreal’ feeling as Mets jersey retirement nears



As Dwight Gooden did a walk-through of his pending jersey retirement last week with longtime Mets PR executive Jay Horwitz, the star-crossed former Mets ace says it finally started to become real.

The Mets announced in January that Gooden finally will have his No. 16 retired on April 14 at Citi Field, followed by a similar ceremony in June for Darryl Strawberry.

They will join Keith Hernandez as the second and third members of the Mets’ 1986 World Series squad — the most recent in team history — to be so honored.

Mets great Dwight Gooden will have his jersey retired April 14 at Citi Field. Noah K. Murray-NY Post

“Walking on the field, that’s when it started to hit me, group texting with a lot of ’86 teammates, it’s kind of hitting me now,” Gooden said Monday on a Zoom call. “A couple months ago, it didn’t seem real yet. It was kind of surreal, but now that it’s starting to get closer, I’m starting to feel the excitement a little bit now.”

Few players brought more excitement to Shea Stadium in that era than Gooden, who burst onto the scene as a 19-year-old rookie 40 years ago in 1984 as the NL Rookie of the Year.

He followed it up the next year with one of the most electrifying pitching seasons in New York baseball history, finishing 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 276 ²/₃ innings to unanimously win the NL Cy Young award.

“From Day 1, I played behind Doc, I had a front-row seat,” former Mets center fielder Mookie Wilson said on the same call. “I saw it all and sometimes I was daydreaming a lot of time, wondering what this guy, what this kid, was going to do next. Because every game, it was like an event, it was more than a ballgame.”

Former Mets relief pitcher Roger McDowell added that bullpen members would relish having “a day off every fifth day” since Gooden led the league with 16 complete games in 1985, an unheard of number in today’s pitch-count driven game.

“We were overjoyed sitting down in the bullpen that we could just sit back and relax and enjoy the show just like the other 55 or 60,000 fans at Shea,” McDowell said.

Gooden, whose well-documented problems with substance abuse eventually derailed his Mets career, has admitted that he didn’t believe this accolade — which he called the “highest honor a team can give a player” — ever would come.

Doc Gooden will have a special bobble head (r.) to honor his jersey retirement. Charles Wenzelberg / New York Post

But he thanked the Mets’ fan base for sticking by him through all of his off-field travails and for pushing owner Steve Cohen and the organization to add him to the team’s growing list of retired jerseys.

“I want them to point at that number and say, ‘I played a part of that.’ Because they did, that doesn’t happen without them,” Gooden said. “No matter what happened off the field, many times they could have turned their back and I would have completely understood.

“But they always gave me support, even when I was down. Even when I didn’t believe in myself, they would lift me up. … I’m not perfect. I’m never gonna be perfect. But hopefully I’ve learned my lessons.”

Dwight “Doc” Gooden pitching for the Mets in 1985. MLB Photos via Getty Images

Like all Mets fans, Gooden also is hoping the franchise eventually will be able to end its drought since ’86 without a World Series title.

“When you say 38 years, wow, it’s a long time,” the 59-year-old Gooden said. “I do have great-grandkids now, which is hard to believe. I have a 20-year-old grandson, and just imagine on Father’s Day telling your 20-year-old grandson, ‘Happy Father’s Day.’

“It seems like a long time, but it goes fast. It’s hard to believe because I thought in 2015 they had a great team, great pitching. I thought they had a good shot. and obviously in 2000 they were there. The direction the team’s going now I think they have good baseball people, I think they’ll have a shot even though they’re off to a slow start.”

The Mets dropped their first three games of the season to the Brewers before Monday’s series opener against the Tigers.

“It’s OK. If this would happen in say June, July, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but since it’s the beginning of the season I think a lot has been made of it,” Gooden said. “But they have a lot of talent on the team and the pitching just has to stay healthy, obviously, and we’ll see what happens at the end.”



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