Saturday, January 21, 2012

Remembering “The Kid” Brings Out the Kid in Me

I must’ve been a little over nine years old when I found out that one of my favorite players, Mets third baseman Hubie Brooks, was heading off to Montreal of all places, to become an Expo. In return, the Mets would be adding a catcher by the name of Gary Carter. Now I say Gary Carter because let’s face it, I was nine years old and the list of major league baseball players that I could actually call by name was scant at best. I can recall guys like Joel Youngblood, Neil Allen, and the aforementioned Brooks, all Mets, of course. But to name other players on other teams, that was not happening. I guess what I’m trying to say is, at that age, “who the heck was Gary Carter?”

After finishing the 1984 season second only to the Chicago Cubs in the NL East, the Mets front office felt that a veteran catcher who could hit as well as he performed behind the plate was in order. That’s where Carter stepped in. Frank Cashen, the general manager of the Mets at the time, was convinced that Carter would be the missing piece for a franchise anxious to return to the glory days of the late nineteen-sixties and early seventies. In Cashen’s mind, acquiring an All-Star catcher with a million-dollar smile would be the solution that would knock some of the rust off his team caused by a near-decade of irrelevance.

In Carter’s first game as a Met, on April 9, 1985, he hit a tenth inning walk-off home run on Opening Day against, none other than, Neil Allen. Maybe Cashen and the Mets were on to something, I thought. Frankly, as a young Mets fan, I probably didn’t even realize the ramifications of what Carter had just accomplished. At nine, the only thing I’d check the newspaper for was the box score not what had actually gone on during the game. Understanding the dramatics of baseball had not quite sunken in for me yet. Really, I passed out during Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. Don’t worry I was lucky enough to wake up in time to see the ball go through Bill Buckner’s legs.

Oh, those were the days when Carter’s bushy red-orange locks would be bouncing up-and-down as he rumbled into second base standing up, clapping his hands after smacking an RBI double. “Great days, indeed,” if you don’t mind me stealing a line from John Lennon. And I was just a bright-eyed little kid back then in Queens, NY, who was proud to call the Mets, his team to beat. I thought these guys would live forever. Carter as well as other players during that amazing World Series run of 1986 will always be immortalized in the minds of Mets fans. There’s no denying that. Carter was definitely an integral part if not the catalyst for the team’s success that year. However, believing that now pains me to read of the unfortunate turn that Carter’s health has taken of late. Being such a well-liked player in his day, then as a coach, it doesn’t seem fair.

I’ve been reading Kimmy Carter’s blog, Gary’s daughter. The situation has gone from bad to worse. I’m hoping for the best for him. But however her father comes out of this, as Mets fans, we will always remember those fond memories of the mid-eighties. How her father’s enthusiasm and passion not only led his team into baseball’s record books but ignited a city in the process. There has been a lot of debate amongst Mets fans on whether the Mets organization should retire Carter’s uniform number eight. If they do decide to go for it, they’d better get cracking. I believe they should. It’s the least they could do to appease what has become a very disgusted fan base. I think it may bring Mets fans together in a positive light.

Here’s to you Gary, the Expos’ greatest Met. Wish you well and hope you get better soon.

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