Beneath a blue sky
streaked by high-flying clouds, and with a salty breeze wafting through the
park's trees, the young man in the Nike T-shirt and the New York Mets pants
walked slowly to the plate.
Doc!" shouted a voice from the dugout along the first base line.
swung the bat above his head, reached out to tap the plate, set himself in the
box and looked out at the pitcher. It was Dec. 21, a comely Sunday afternoon in
Tampa, and for at least one blessed moment, Dr. K was lost in nothing but the
game of baseball. His slo-pitch softball team, the Neighborhood All-Stars, was
losing 10-3 in the eighth inning to the club from Town and Country Sporting
Goods. But Gooden was perfectly happy, because there is nothing he would rather
do on a Sunday in the off-season than play shortstop and bat third at Henry and
Ola Playground in the town where he grew up and learned the game.
softball," Gooden had said. "I get to hit more often than in baseball,
and I can be a power hitter in this game. It's fun. We have four or five guys
on the team who play professional ball. By the time we're through with our
season, the softball season has already started, and it's tough to get in [a
league]. We just go around and find teams to play."
And Gooden, for
the most part, just plays it loose and swings away. With nephew Gary Sheffield,
a minor leaguer in the Milwaukee Brewers' system, on first base in the eighth,
Doc crushed the first pitch, sending it in a towering arc toward the fence in
here!" shouted the on-deck hitter, Vance Lovelace, a minor league pitcher
with the California Angels. The ball fell 10 feet beyond the fence, about 285
feet away, and Gooden trotted very slowly around the bases. The blow began a
two-inning rally that ultimately carried his team to a 12-11 victory. The gold
in his teeth flashed in the light as he high-fived his way into the dugout.
like Reggie!" cried centerfielder Marvin Lancaster. Gooden laughed.
what'd you hit?" someone asked.
slider!" he replied.
And he sat down
and smiled again. "I really enjoy this," Dwight Gooden said.
"Sometimes we play three or four games on a Sunday. I really look forward
to these games. It's so relaxing. It's fun. Just fun."