Residents at the Braemar at Wallkill assisted living facility have been unable to get in person visits from loved ones since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March.
However, on Thursday, they were able to virtually meet former New York Mets and Yankees pitcher Dwight Gooden on a Zoom call, which was part of the Mets’ Amazin’ Alumni Series.
The planned half-hour virtual meeting went about 45 minutes.
“Doc was so gracious,” Assistant Administrator Harold Hildred said. “he gave us over 45 minutes of his time. He fielded questions and shared stories with our residents. It just built their immune system. It was a boost. They’re still talking about it (on Friday). Some have said it was the best thing that happened to them, especially through this pandemic.”
The virtual visit was a surprise to residents.
“This has been absolutely wonderful,” said Maryann Crenny, director of Operations for the FilBen Group, the organization that owns and manages Braemar Living. “I know it’s been very difficult for our residents over the last four months to have limited access to the outside world, so to have the Mets organization reach out to us and for Dwight Gooden to share his time with us, it is truly appreciated.”
The visit was moderated by Mets Vice President of Alumni Public Relations Jay Horwitz and Mets External Affairs & Community Engagement Assistant Erica Wells.
Residents asked Gooden a variety of questions, such as who his favorite catcher was during his career. He told them it was Gary Carter, who served as his primary batterymate with the Mets from 1985 until Carter’s tenure with the Mets ended in 1989.
When Gooden threw his no-hitter with the Yankees, a reporter asked him who his favorite catcher was. He said then-batterymate Joe Girardi. His first phone call was from Carter.
Gooden, a four-time all-star with the Mets (1984, 1985, 1986, 1988), was called up to the Mets in 1984 at 19 years old and was named Rookie of the year, with a career high 276 strikeouts, a record for a rookie pitcher.
He had his best season in 1985, pitching to a 24-4 record and a 1.53 ERA to win the Cy Young Award. He won the World Series with the Mets in 1986 and with the Yankees in 1996. He also won the National League East with the Mets in 1998.
He talked about his feelings on some of the new baseball rules. Due to the pandemic, Major League Baseball instituted a universal DH. Extra innings also begin with a runner on second base to shorten games and teams play 7-inning doubleheaders if thy need to make up games.
“He was very diplomatic,” Hildred said. “He didn’t want to go into the what-ifs. He said he likes the little things about the game, the National League type of strategy.”
He was also asked about his experience winning the 1986 playoffs and World Series, how he thinks COVID-19 will affect baseball, his toughest out, his favorite pitch, and more.
One of the residents said it was a privilege to meet and talk to him.
“You are such a wonderful man, and humble, too,” the resident said.
In addition to participating in the Mets’ Amazin’ Alumni series, Gooden also donated his time to visiting pediatric cancer patients at Hackensack University Medical Center and visiting schools to provide children with direction and advice.
“He said you’re blessed with the talent and you can’t do it with just talent alone,” Hildred said. “You have to invest the hard work. He talked very fondly about his father being such an influence on him. That’s something that stuck out for me.”
When the call was ended, Gooden signed off by wishing the residents well.
“Thank you for having me,” he said. “You guys were always pulling for me and made my career what it was, so it’s my turn to return the favor, and I’m definitely pulling for you guys. You are not along. I’m here with you.”