This blog post is more personal in nature. As we rapidly approach the end of the year it is a great time to reflect on what has meant the most to us. Baseball has brought me some of the biggest joys of my life and some of my biggest heartbreaks. Having said that, I wanted to think back on one of the most indelible moments I have been able to experience, be it during a game or in the moments surrounding it.
One thing for certain is I have had a very fortunate life when it comes to experiences in my fandom, especially when it comes to my favorite athletes and teams through the years. I can say I am one of the few who get to say they have met their heroes. The first time for me was when I was thirteen years old. My favorite player was always Dwight Gooden; this comes as no secret to anyone who knows me even moderately well. I had a cousin who was a season ticket holder for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I was seated next to her in her seats behind the home plate one Saturday afternoon as the Dodger played my New York Mets. She informed me the visiting team gets onto the bus on the field after the game, but they will visit with friends and family beforehand. At this point in time, the players were either on television or out on the field in front of me. I had never really considered them real people.
My parents took me to the game, but my father, who was an avid Dodgers fan, didn’t want to hang around after a game the Dodgers lost. The stars were in alignment for me on this day, as my mother was willing to stay after the game to see how it would go. She told my father he could find the car and take a nap while we tried our hand at meeting the players.
As the fans filed out of the stadium, we moved over to be behind the first base dugout since this is the visitors’ side in Dodger Stadium. Security told us we had to wait on the top three rows of the section to be away from the field. So with a sense of anticipation, we waited and after about twenty minutes the first player appeared. I did not know anyone connected to any of the guys on the team at this point. As luck would have it, I was seated across the aisle from a woman who was there for Kevin Elster, one of the Mets infielders. She said she could introduce me to him because she could see how excited I was. She was true to her word and once he came into the stands I was waved past security and was among the players. Kevin Elster was cool enough, but the woman had a lot more of his attention than I did. When Dwight Gooden came out of the dugout, I was determined to talk to him. There was a problem; he was going down the rightfield line to speak to someone privately away from everyone else.
In all of my excitement of being around actual major league baseball players, I had forgotten about my mother. Lo and behold she had taken up a spot down the rightfield line as well. From a distance I see my mother making her way to where Dwight Gooden was. So a few short steps later, I have my mother talking to my favorite player. She later told me she could recognize him from the posters on my bedroom wall. My mother is far from shy so going over to him was only natural.
I tell Kevin Elster I had to go and make a beeline to where my mother was. Security had other ideas. They stop me about midway there. To my amazement, my mother pointed at me and Dwight Gooden waved me over. Security stepped aside and there was nothing between me and my man at that point.
My mother introduced us and he shook my hand. He signed the baseball cards I had of his and talked to me about playing baseball. I was grinning from ear to ear. My mother later told me she had never seen me smile as much as I had that day, braces be dammed! If I had been struck by lightning then and there I would have died happy boy.
This was the first of a series of times I would talk with Dwight Gooden and other players on the New York Mets. I appreciate all of the time I spent around the guys in my formative years. We now have a much clearer picture of how flawed they were as individuals, but I can say they were always nice to me.
The real hero in this story is my mother. She went out of her way to give her son one of the biggest thrills of his life. She could have easily said she wanted to leave when my father did and she didn’t have to strike up the conversation with my favorite player. The love of baseball has truly become a family affair as she has taken up the mantle as the biggest Dodgers fan in the family. It is something that has surprised her as much as anyone. In this season of celebration where we spend time with our families, I think back on moments like this which remind us what the biggest gifts in our lives actually are.