Friday, February 17, 2012

Gary Carter: Growing Up with The Kid

My first jersey, my first autograph and my first memory of a clutch baseball moment all belong to Gary Carter. "The Kid" was a monumental baseball figure for me growing up. In 1985 I saw him come to the Mets and turn a really good team into champions. He didn't do it alone but he was the last piece that allowed the amazing puzzle that was the '86 Mets to be put together.

I remember Carter always being in the top 10 in the National League in the long lost stat "game winning hits" that was popular in the '80s. I can still see his home run over the Green Monster in the '86 series. Somewhere in my parent's basement there's probably the banner that I made when we went to see a Mets game hoping it would be the one where Gary Carter hit his 300th home run.

While the baseball memories and winning seasons that Carter played a role in for me as a young Mets fan, it was the type of man that he was that will make a longer lasting impact. As most kids who grew up in the '80s playing baseball I had my list of favorite players. Gooden and Strawberry were right at the top. But what I couldn't understand as an 8 year old is why Gooden and Strawberry were missing games? Why were they being talked about potentially being put in jail? Why would great ballplayers do such stupid things? Why did the players I had hanging up in posters all over my room have to be such disappointments in real life?

Looking back those questions are juvenile now, but baffling for someone in elementary school. But there was one player who would not disappoint. I still have a copy of Sports Illustrated from 1987 where they dedicated an issue just to baseball and taking a look into the lives of some of the top players. Gary Carter was featured with his family making pancakes on a Saturday morning.

In today's era we love to laud the anti-hero. The bad guys have somehow become more likable or more interesting than the good guys. However, this is just a fad and the one thing that can remain constant is the good guys come out on top in the long run. Gary Carter wasn't just one of the good guys. He was one of the greats, both on the field and off.

Sure the likes of Barry Bonds, Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth will be remembered for their baseball talents, but Gary Carter will have greater rewards beyond just baseball royalty. He's a hall of famer. He's a legendary Mets player. And he was a man who never wavered, never crumbled under the spotlight and never had his faith questioned.

The picture you see in this post has been in my possession for 26 years. I never got to meet Gary Carter, but I went to elementary school with a girl, Leanna Roche, who's father did. When Mr. Roche was golfing with Gary Carter at an outing, he mentioned to him that there was this young boy that rode to school with his daughter that was a huge Mets fan. In fact, this little boy wore #8 on his tee ball uniform. Instead of just signing his name, Gary Carter wrote mine first and then added a short note before leaving his autograph.

I have a few dozen autographs in my possession of baseball players I've looked up to. But Gary Carter is the first one I ever received and the only one who gave more than just his name.

The world lost a great catcher but a better man. May he be remembered more for the latter.

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