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Gooden Hopes For A Healthy '99

Dwight Gooden's biography and career pitching statistics for 14 big league seasons stretch over six pages in the Cleveland Indians' media guide.

His 1995 season, however, is summed up in just six words: "Did not play in Major Leagues."

Four years have passed since the temptation of drugs and alcohol nearly cost Gooden his family and baseball career. And although he didn't add a single victory or strikeout to his resume in '95, Gooden considers it the most important year of his life.

"I think when I got suspended, unfortunately it took a negative thing to get something positive out of it," he said. "But looking back at it, being out that entire '95 season made me grow up as a person. It made me get more involved with my family and kids. Before that it was baseball first."

Sobriety has allowed the 34-year-old Gooden to take control of his life. He awakens each day with the same goal as the day before - to stay clean and sober. The recovering addict's "One day at a time" mantra has served him well.

He has learned his lessons the hard way, and discusses many of them in his autobiography, "Heat", written with Bob Klapisch, who covered Gooden when he pitched in New York.

In the book, Gooden details some of the nightmarish moments during the years when cocaine and booze dominated his life, including the time he contemplated suicide.

The writing process was both painful and helpful, he said.

"I think it was great for me because some of it was tough times and tough moments I had to relive and go through," he said. "But it was therapeutic because it lets me know that if I let my guard down these are the things that can happen. Or something worse can happen."

Gooden continues to attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and still undergoes the mandatory weekly drug tests ordered by baseball. He has a sponsor to help him and continues to get support from long time friends like Adele Smithers, whose husband, Brinkley, founded the Smithers Institute in New York where Gooden fought his first battle with cocaine addiction in 1987.

Ms. Smithers was in St. Petersburg on Friday to see Gooden pitch against Tampa Bay.

Right now, things couldn't be better for Gooden.

"I'm healthy. I'm feeling good," he said. "Overall, I couldn't be more happy."

Gooden, slated to be the Indians' No. 5 starter, has been one of the club's most pleasant surprises this spring. His fastball has consistently registered above 90 mph and he's averaging a strikeout per inning.

Now, if he can just stay healthy.

"The last time? Wow," he said when asked if he could recall the last year he went injury free.

Then, like a doctor reading a patient's medical history, Gooden recounts a decade of ups and downs.

"I would say '90, That year I won 19 games," he said. "In '91, I had surgery in September. In '2, was on the DL (disabled list) at the All-Star break. '93, got shut down with the shoulder. '94 got suspended."

"Missed all of '95. '96 had a tired arm for the last part of the season, missed the postseason. '97 started out on the DL with the hernia. Last year, started out on the DL. It's been a while."

Gooden, who went 8-6 last year in 23 starts, is just 15 wins shy of 200 for his career. He hasn't set any goals for 1999, and Gooden knows better than to think too far ahead.

"My main thing is to stay healthy after all years with the injuries and setbacks, and get the ball every fifth day," he said. "That's all I can ask for."

One pitch and one day at a time.

©1999 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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