Mets players sense little change in Gooden, despite the mountain of attention he received over the winter—celebrity he suffers more than enjoys. "He's looser now that he feels part of the ball club," says Jesse Orosco, the Mets' premier reliever. "And he's eating more in the clubhouse. We call him Wimpy, he puts away so many hamburgers. But he's still pretty quiet, not loud or cocky or anything like that. Dwight's pretty much himself."
Gooden's agent, Jim Neader of St. Petersburg, talks about Gooden having "million-dollar potential in the endorsement field." Adds Neader: "He's the guy-next-door type. Clean-cut. 'Refreshing' is the word we keep hearing." But for a guy next door, Gooden is more than shy. He is uncomfortable around strangers, be they autograph seekers, the press or bystanders. He isn't impolite—just not friendly. There is someplace else he'd rather be.
Pitching. The greater part of himself, for now anyway, Gooden leaves out there on the mound—the part that humps up with intensity and takes control. He channels his energies along a very narrow track, so that he is either pitching or waiting to pitch. That sort of focus makes for long winters. But it also makes for long careers, and the great surprise to baseball folk will not be if Gooden succeeds in becoming the "best of his time," as Frey predicted last year, but if he fails. He seems to have things that much under control.