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The Squandered Chance

This article is more than 12 years old.

At just 19, Dwight Gooden threw his first game for the Mets.
As Rookie of the Year, his life was good as one's life gets...
Except that it got better. In his second New York season,
He went a stunning twenty four and four. Was there a reason
That he would not continue pitching brilliantly each year?
In '86, the Mets were champs, and it was crystal clear
That Gooden was one reason. He went seventeen and six.
As nothing then seemed broken, there seemed nothing then to fix.

But shortly after winning nearly all there was to win,
Dwight Gooden went to rehab and announced he would begin
To help himself beat drugs, and hence began another trail
That led at first to hope and then, unhappily, to jail.
But through the years, each time Dwight Gooden came back to the game,
And demonstrated for a while that he could be the same
Extraordinary pitcher that he'd been when he began,
He lifted up the hopes of teammate, manager, and fan,
And I among them rooted for a great, reclaimed career,
And there were brilliant moments — a no-hitter — it was clear
That Gooden, even in his thirties, still could have his day,
Although he pitched for five teams in a year along the way
To harder times, and to arrests, and finally to jail.

But not, I hope, quite finally. I still hope he won't fail
To find, in middle age, serenity where there's been less
Of that than other men have found. His life has been a mess,
But through the years of chasing players, begging for a word,
I've come to see the exercise as something quite absurd,
And come to root not for a hit, or for running catch,
But for more courage off the field, enough of it to match
The challenge of constructing in the shadow of the glare
That once lit up their every move a space wherein they dare
To make a life with shape and meaning with this current chance
Apart from what has been a mad and self-destructive dance.

This program aired on November 9, 2006. The audio for this program is not available.

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