The heat of a Florida afternoon was gone, leaving only the soft orange glow of twilight that makes for what photographers like to call "magic hour." A cool breeze blew as gently as a whisper through the oaks and Southern pines, barely rustling the Spanish moss hanging like chimes from their limbs. In the long shadows of the mighty trees were the boys of the North Seminole Little League. Dwight Gooden Jr. played third base and batted leadoff for the Marlins. His father watched from the metal bleachers, returning to North Seminole not with a suspension from baseball, but with a major league no-hitter not quite 48 hours old and more good news: Dan was making progress, and if all went well he would be home after three weeks in the hospital.
Watching Dwight Jr. made Gooden think of the first time his own father came to watch him play. As a seven-year-old, Gooden had played in the Belmont Heights section of Tampa, about 10 minutes from this park. He was on deck when he saw his mother and father in the stands for the first time. He started crying right there, not stopping until they walked away from the field. "I don't know why I cried," Gooden said. "Maybe because I was scared to fail in front of them."
Later that night Dan, who had watched Dwight play from some hidden vantage point, described every detail of the game to his son. Gooden then figured it was O.K. for his parents to watch him play. Dan almost never missed a game after that.
Now Gooden was watching his son, wearing uniform number 1. "The guilt is always there in the back of my mind," he said of struggling with his addiction. "I still feel like I let down a lot of people. Sometimes, when I pick up one of my kids, it really hurts because I realize I wasn't there for them. I think that guilt will always be there for a reason. It's important not to forget how much I must have hurt them. That's what makes this no-hitter so special. I was able to share it with my teammates and then be fortunate enough to come home and share it with my family. I'm just so happy for my dad. I know it was a thrill for him to see me in the big leagues, win the Cy Young and pitch in the World Series. But this, coming back like this, is almost like completing the chapter for him."
Dwight Jr. drew a walk and sprinted to first base, his belt-less pants hanging around his skinny waist. His dad smiled easily and took a drink of cola from a cup. As night arrived in Tampa, no one had to ask. Dwight Gooden was all right. He was doing just fine.