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Thursday, July 14, 2011

How I lost my girlfriend to Dwight Gooden: a cautionary All-Star Game tale

From the BR Archives

It was July of 1984, and the first Red Sox team of my lifetime without Carl Yastrzemski in its lineup was struggling along at under .500 and nearly 20 games behind the Tigers. By the All-Star break it was clear that the Sox had no shot in the AL East, but my mind wasn't really on baseball anyway.

This was shaping up to be the best summer of my life. A few months before I had turned 17 and gotten my driver's license, and my brother had bequeathed me his beloved 1973 Olds Delta 88 convertible. Despite rusting floorboards and a leaky roof, this royal blue behemoth  was among the coolest and most recognizable cars  at Newton North High School. I dubbed it The Cruising Vessel in deference to "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," and felt sure it would land me a girlfriend just like Brad Hamilton's. I was far from the coolest guy on campus -- picture a mop-topped Ben Stiller in the early scenes  of "Something About Mary," but the car gave me a new found confidence that would quickly pay dividends.

Driving home one day just before school let out in June, my buddy Marc and I passed two girls we recognized as among the best-looking sophomores in school. We asked them if they wanted a ride home, and this being The Cruising Vessel they naturally jumped right in. A few days later we took them out for a Saturday night drive, and the car worked its magic. This was the first time I had ever dated a girl from my own school, and I envisioned several months of summer bliss followed by a triumphant senior year of walking down halls hand-in-hand with the lovely Miss X.

While I was daydreaming about kissing in the corridors, another teenager just a couple years out of high school was blazing his way across a much bigger stage. Mets rookie Dwight Gooden was striking out batters at a rate no 19-year-old (or few pitchers of any age) had approached before. By the break he already had  133 whiffs in just 111 innings, and nobody was surprised when he was named to the National League All-Star squad. I was aware of Gooden's feats but did not plan to see him perform n the Mid-Summer Classic; my mother was going to be away for the night, and Miss X and I would have the house to ourselves.

Then it happened. Somewhere in the middle of a marathon makeout session I reverted to my Stiller-esque awkwardness and felt a compulsion to reach for the remote and turn on the game. Maybe I was nervous about trying to work my way around the bases (I was mostly a singles hitter at this point), or maybe I just wanted a brief respite before I continued blazing my way to manhood. But when the old Zenith warmed up and I saw the thin, pinstripped Gooden striding the mound, I momentarily forgot all about Miss X and watched the Doc do his thing. When Gooden struck out Lance Parrish, the play-by-play broadcaster (it wasn't Phil Rizzuto, but it should have been given the situation) informed us that NL pitchers had now fanned four straight batters -- Fernando Valenzuela having struck out the side in the previous inning.

After Gooden punched out Chet Lemon, references were being made to Carl Hubbell's five straight strikeouts in the 1935 All-Star Game. Granted, Parrish, Lemon, and the next guy up (Al Davis) were no Boggs, Brett, and Carew, but this was still a little piece of baseball history in the making. Gooden bore down, I leaned forward, and when Davis swung and missed for strike three I pumped my fist and spun around. That's when I noticed Miss X, the smile gone from her beautiful face and her eyebrows raised in what could only be interpreted as polite bafflement. I quickly switched off the game, but it was too late. The mood was gone, and not even Lionel Richie was going to bring it back. When I dropped her off that night I got a peck on the cheek, and a few days later the game was over. My September dreams were dashed.

Gooden would haunt me again a few years later when his Mets did in the Red Sox in the World Series, but by this point I had learned my lesson. Until I had either sealed the deal or knew a girl was a bonafide baseball fan, I was keeping my clicker in my pocket no matter how big the game.

1 comment:

  1. I don't remember the girl and don't remember the game, but who could forget the 1986 World Series and that car - SK