Story behind first fans of Mets great Dwight Gooden: K Korner
The thing to remember is, the K Korner was there from the start. It wasn’t the product of a speed-gaining bandwagon. It wasn’t designed to latch on to Dwight Gooden’s fame, merely to celebrate it. They didn’t wait for the kid to blossom into a star; they were right there at the launch pad.
They were there on the chilly night of April 19, 1984, temperatures in the 40s with a trace of rain in the air all night. They were perched up in Section 44, hard near the left-field pole at old Shea Stadium, Dennis Scalzitti and Bob Belle — couple of kids themselves from North Haledon, N.J.
“We knew we had this kid, this phenom on the way,” Scalzitti says, his voice still filled with wonder all these years later. “We knew he’d struck out 300 in Lynchburg the year before, and even though that was Class-A ball you could just sense he was bringing something special with him when he joined the Mets.”
It was a special act of faith to be a Mets fan on April 19, 1984. The Mets had endured seven straight years of fifth- and sixth-place finishes, and hadn’t exactly captured the city’s imagination yet — just 10,703 others joined them in Flushing that frosty night. Gooden? His ERA for his first two starts as a big leaguer was 7.56.
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The kids came anyway. They brought a few friends with them — a pile of white poster boards, with a large “K” in red paint on each one. They would use seven of them that night, Gooden pitching just five innings, allowing four unearned runs and earning a no-decision in a 7-6 Mets win over the Expos.
They were a curious sight.
Across the next three summers, however, they would become something else: an anchor of New York’s sporting pop culture, a magnet for camera lenses and fellow Mets fans. The Mets’ marketing department recognized quickly how much a part of Gooden’s aura they were, right behind his rising 96 mph heater and his nose-to-knees curve. They actually offered better seats for a time.
Scalzitti and Belle preferred Section 44.
That was their corner of heaven. That was the K Korner.
“I scheduled my life around it,” Scalzitti says. “I did miss one game and I had a friend of mine ready to stand in for me. It rained that day.”
In time, as Gooden gained momentum across that rookie season of 1984 then exploded during the summer of 1985, Scalzitti and Belle made sure that they brought 27 placards with them every game. The most they ever hung on the ledge in front of their seats was 16, twice. But you could never be too careful.
“You just never knew,” Scalzitti says. “That’s what you have to remember about what Doc was in those days. It seemed he could do anything. We had to be prepared.”
And Gooden grew to appreciate just how important the boys up in Section 44 were to the nightly extravaganza that became every one of his starts at Shea — especially the 34 in 1984 and ’85, when Gooden’s popularity soared beyond anything the Mets had ever seen before. Gooden’s 18 starts in ’85 drew an average of 40,016 fans to Shea, this at a time when NL attendance was strictly listed by turnstile count, not ticket sales.
“I couldn’t admit it when I played, but I used to pick them up out of the corner of my eye,” Gooden recently told The Post’s Ken Davidoff. “Whenever I struck out someone, we’d throw the ball around the horn, and the third baseman was the last guy. The K Korner was in the left-field corner. I would always pick up how many K’s I had before getting the ball from the third baseman. It was fun. I enjoyed it.”
Scalzitti understands better than anyone how lucky they were to exist in a pre-social media world. After a while, there would have been blowback, and fake Twitter accounts, and the very thing that made them popular — their sheer visibility — would’ve bitten them, and badly.
But that stuff didn’t exist then, so mostly what Scalzitti remembers is an unaffected, unbridled innocence. The newspaper and TV folks would occasionally visit. They got to meet Gooden on the field. One of their K cards found a home in Cooperstown
Scalzitti still remembers the first time he emerged through the Lincoln Tunnel, looked up and saw the enormous Gooden Nike ad — 95 feet high, 42 feet wide — that covered the side of the Holland Hotel building at 351 W. 42nd Street for almost 10 years, until a similar mural of Charles Oakley replaced it.
“You don’t easily forget a thing like that,” he says.
As with Gooden’s epic roll, nothing that good ever lasts forever. Even before Gooden’s first fall from grace in the spring of 1987, the K Korner boys had decided it was time to move on. But even that was newsworthy enough that they made that announcement on the old “Joe Franklin Show” on Channel 9.
“Those memories have lasted a lifetime for me,” says Scalzitti, now a DJ who operates Coconut Joe’s Music-to-Go out of North Haledon. “It was such an incredible time.”
And even all the way out in Section 44: an even better view.
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