As the last bit of Shea Stadium rubble turned melted into what will be a parking lot for Citi Field last week, I couldn’t stop the memories of Shea that came flooding back to me, and in particular one of our greatest eras as Mets’ fans–the mid ’80′s. We were just a few years removed from that ridiculous ad campaign, “The Magic Is Back,” only now the magic really was back. And much of it was brought in on the shoulders of two young, explosive players in Dwight Gooden and Darryl Strawberry.
In 1984, the Mets were getting better but you could still walk up and get a decent ticket for any home game. My buddies and I would try to catch Gooden pitch at every home game, and his early career numbers were Seaver-esque. And I mean, Gooden would strike out 16 or 17 batters a game with one of the most wicked fastballs I’d ever seen and a curve that was just as nasty. He won NL Rookie of the Year and then the following season the Cy Young by going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts. A combination of bad pitching mechanics and drug abuse affected Gooden’s mound prowess during the 1986 championship season, and though he had some good seasons later on, was never quite as dominant as he was in ’84 and ’85. But I remember those warm, muggy summers where the only breeze was coming from fastballs Gooden was blazing by hitters.
I also remember Strawberry’s mighty swing, and was there for two of his more memorable home runs. The first was in the ’86 NLCS when he hit a three run shot off lefty slow-ball pitcher Bob Knepper to tie a game the Mets would eventually win on Lenny Dykstra’s game-winning HR. The other was a laser he hit off John Franco in May of 1988 to win a game in the bottom of the 10th. It’s not like Straw-man didn’t do this many other times, but these were two games I was at and remember vividly.
We’re about to usher in a new ballpark and new memories, and hopefully there will be a lot more real magic in the memories we all get to talk about, starting with the 2009 season. Let’s go Mets!