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Sometimes I think we get too caught up in anniversaries. Every October 25th we note that it’s the anniversary of Game 6. Every September 17th we talk about the clincher. And on and on and on until we note the completely mundane and monotonous events. Not just Mets wise … everything. We note everything until we’re looking completely in the past and we don’t have our eyes set forward. Lots of these past events are noted and I wind up shrugging my shoulders and moving on with my day. Keep moving forward … that’s what I say.

On Sunday, Doc Gooden, who twirled a complete game that September 17th we talk about every year, turned 50 years old. And the occasion serves as a right cross to my childhood which stopped me in my tracks. A whole slew of celebrities that we grew up with turned 50 recently. Doc Gooden is different because Doc Gooden should be 19 years old forever. Finding out that Doc Gooden turned fifty was a virtual opening of the old box in the attic with the old baseball cards, the crusty playoff towels from 1988, and for some reason a Gem doll that snuck in there. Hell, Doc turning 50 pretty much throws the entire box at you. So nostalgia wins this round by technical knockout.

Doc represents our hopes and frailties all at once. 20-year-old Doc … the one who came up in 1984, brought all of New York to Shea Stadium on weeknights, school nights, and hot July days to put up plain white placards with the letter “K” written on them represent those moments where the future seems bright and limitless. Doc had the baseball world at his fingertips, becoming must see television and must see live entertainment and luring the undivided attention of the Mets fan and the baseball fan in a way that no baseball player has ever done since or ever will do again in this age of self inflicted A.D.D. tendencies and our never ending search for the next great thing or the next hilarious event surrounding a Kardashian sister or Jose Canseco’s finger. We didn’t have to search for the next great thing for a good while, because we had it in our hands and we knew it. Doc was going to be Doc forever.

30-year-old Doc … the one that got suspended for drug use a second time and threw away his Mets career serves as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. That Doc represents the demons that we all have and live with. Some of us manage them better than others, but Doc shows us that we all have them. And when manifested wrong they can ruin everything you’ve built. Doc Gooden built a phenomenon that took a hold of an entire city. Doc’s demons were strong enough to tear it down brick by brick … or at least paint over those bricks with Charles Oakley. That’s when we put our memories in the box and tucked them away. And kept them there as Gooden wore other uniforms and had other successes all the while thinking that he should still be winning 20 games in a Mets uniform with that curveball of his. But we learned that demons are notorious for being able to hit a curveball. Even Lord Charles..

50-year-old Doc … well, he makes us long for 20-year-old Doc. His birthday gladly opens the box of memories that has gone from residing deep in the recesses of our heads and thrusts it right in front of us. And it takes us back to the upper deck at Shea for a Friday in late July as he mowed down Cub after Cub after Cub. And the K’s are going up one by one as we believed that anything was possible while living with the simple notion that all we really need are the three B’s: a burger, a beer, and baseball. And … while the three B’s theory might still be true … we believe now as Doc turns 50 that there are still possibilities out there beyond the B’s, and beyond our youth which has been stuffed in the box of memories. Maybe the specific moments, all the strikeouts … all those hitters looking silly with their helmets flying off while trying to hit 98 mph of high heat … all the K’s hanging off the left field corner … those can’t be recaptured. But as Doc’s birthday takes us back to Shea in 1984 and 1985, he reminds us that there are still possibilities in life that can be captured by you … by me … and by Doc Gooden himself, as he himself feels lucky to still be with us. That’s what a 50-year-old Doc represents to me.

Happy Birthday, Doc.


My childhood.

John Coppinger


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