Forever A Kid

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All day yesterday I was thinking of new beginnings. Despite the doldrums the Mets are currently in I found myself looking forward to next week when pitchers and catchers report to Port St. Lucie to begin preparing for the 2012 season in earnest.

Then the news came. I first saw it on Twitter as I see most breaking stories these days. And as most breaking stories my first reaction was skepticism. Just because it’s on Twitter doesn’t mean it’s true. But as time went on and the various outlets began reporting it the sadness began to sink in.

The news, of course, was that after battling for several months cancer had taken Gary carter from us. Carter was the catcher for the great Mets teams of the mid/late 1980′s during my formative teen years. Those are days I’m nostalgic for regularly for many reasons outside of baseball but also for what Carter brought to the table for my hometown team.

Many people will be writing far more interesting stories and posts about Carter’s passing than I will. They’ll talk about Carter’s accomplishments on and off the field, their personal relationships with him and the legacy he’s left behind. They’ll talk about his Hall of Fame credentials, his 324 career home runs, his 1,225 RBIs, his rally starting single with 2 outs in the bottom of the 10th inning of game 6 in 1986. They’ll talk about his trade to the Mets for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Floyd Youmans and Herm Winningham. They’ll talk about his faith and enthusiasm for the game and life in general.

But on a day I was thinking about new beginnings I chose to remember him for an old beginning: his first game as a Met. The game that got us believing that the breakout season the Mets had in 1984 would not be a fluke. That with this big kid anchoring the batting order and coaching the pitching staff from behind the plate 1985 would be so much bigger than 1984. And it was. From the very beginning.

The day was April 9, 1985. The Mets opened at Shea Stadium with a day game. It was a Tuesday so I was in school most of the day but managed to get home to see the end of the game (much as I’d do for game 6 of the 1986 NLCS, but that’s another story). The Mets had gone into the 10th inning tied 5-5 with the St. Louis Cardinals when Carter came to the plate to face Neil Allen, who had been traded from the Mets (along with Rick Owenby) to the Cards in the Keith Hernandez trade. Carter hit an Allen fastball deep to left field that just cleared the outfield wall before landing in the visitor’s bullpen to win the game for his new team.

It was more than just a game winning home run. It was a message to his new teammates that he’d always be there for them. It was an example of the never give up attitude that would infect that team and eventually win them a World Series championship. This is what Carter brought to the table both on and off the field. This is what would greatly influence the budding sports fan in me and, more importantly, influence my still developing personality.

I didn’t know Gary Carter. I never got a chance to meet him. And I never got a chance to thank him. But from the bottom of my heart I’d like to say thank you, Mr. Carter, for the thrills you gave me when I, to, was a kid. Goodbye, Kid. Rest in peace.

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