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Thursday, February 23, 2012

For Gary Carter, There was More to Life than Baseball...

Gary Carter
In his best-selling book, The Bad Guys Won! A Season of Brawling, Boozing, Bimbo Chasing and Championship Baseball..., author Jeff Pearlman writes that New York Mets’ All-Star catcher, Gary Carter, who died last week from brain cancer at the age of 57, never quite fit in with the rest of the guys.

Sure, he was one of the team leaders on the field and his addition to the club in December 1984, was one of the final pieces to the Mets puzzle.

The "Kid,” as he was affectionately known for his contagious smile and childlike passion for the game on the field, fit nicely into the cleanup spot, between star first baseman, Keith Hernandez, and NL Rookie of the Year, Darryl Strawberry.

He also provided great defense, relentless competitiveness and a keen ability to handle the young pitching staff, led by 19-year-old phenom, Dwight “Doc” Gooden, Ron Darling, Sid Fernandez and veteran Bobby Ojeda.

As a long-suffering Mets fan, I remember telling my brother in jest one day before the trade, “Could you imagine if the Mets got Gary Carter?”

Never in my wildest dream could I have imagined that my half-joking comment would come to fruition when General Manager Frank Cashen traded popular infielder Hubie Brooks and several spare parts for Carter, who at the time, was arguably the best overall catcher in the majors since Johnny Bench.

My father, brother and I, who have been following the team since the early 70’s, and had spent a decade in baseball purgatory, following a team that finished in the cellar or near the cellar every year, were obviously ecstatic.

The Mets won 98 games in 1995, including a game-winning extra-inning home run in his first game with the team, which not only ingratiated him to Shea Stadium faithful, but was indicative of things to come, and then went on to win 108 games in the 1986 World Series Championship season, where they led the division from opening day and never looked back.

Celebrating '86 WS win
However, off the field, it was a different story. The eleven times All-Star, who was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003, was much maligned and ridiculed by some of his teammates, because, well, he was just too good.

He refused to go out carousing with the boys or, as some of his teammates called it, “raiding and pillaging” visiting towns. He preferred to hang out with his family then with groupies.  And, even had the audacity, during the team's '86 post-season run, to ask management to allow the wives to travel with the players!

Because of his wholesome lifestyle, and the fact that the media loved him because he was always willing to give interviews, he rubbed some, who were suspicious of his intentions, the wrong way.

In a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, Pearlman writes:
Baseball clubhouses are much like junior-high lunchrooms, in that the cool kids divide themselves from the un-cool; the studs distance themselves from the geeks.

In the oft-ignorant, oft-shallow world of baseball, Carter was deemed a geek from the very beginning. He didn't drink and didn't smoke. He didn't curse and he didn't talk smack. He showed up to work early, played hard, embraced home-plate collisions and—by all accounts—worked his tail off. He was loyal to his wife, Sandy, and an involved and dedicated father to their three children.
Carter was a devout Christian. He was raised Presbyterian but is said to have grown stronger in his faith with the guidance of former Montreal Expos teammate John Boccabella, who was Catholic, and helped Carter come to terms with the death of his mother, who died when Kid was 12-years-old.

Carter hit 324 career homers
His mother’s death left a profound mark on his life and, he would often say, was the driving force in his wanting to succeed. He was always trying to make her proud. In fact, some who were close to him say he loved to hear the cheers of the crowd because he knew his mom was smiling.

And, as passionately as he played on the field, he was as ardent in giving of himself to others.

He was involved in many charitable endeavors, including his foundation, the Gary Carter Foundation, which helps kids break out of poverty by, as they state in the organization's web site, "better the physical, mental and spiritual well being of children" and also founding Celebrities Fore Kids, which ironically helped children with cancer and their families.

After retiring from the game and a stint as an analyst with the Florida Marlins, and several minor league managing jobs, Carter became the head baseball coach at a Christian university, Palm Beach Atlantic, near his home, where his daughter Kimmy is the school’s softball coach.

He always stressed to his players that there was more to life than baseball, “My primary goal is to help these young athletes become better Christians and prepare them for life, not just baseball.”

His ambitions for one day managing in the majors were dashed last May, when he was diagnosed with inoperable brain tumors. After several months of treatment, last month, the family announced that more tumors were found.

He died two days after being admitted to Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach last week.  His family, friends and teammates, including those who had ostracized him during their playing days, were visibly affected, many breaking down in tears.  

On a post announcing his death, Carter’s daughter Kimmy wrote, “He is in heaven and has reunited with his mom and dad. I believe with all my heart that dad had a standing ovation as he walked through the gates of heaven to be with Jesus.  He is now in God's Hall of Fame."

Carter is survived by his wife of 37 years, Sandy, their three children, Christy, Kimmy and D.J., and three grandchildren.

In life, there are certain public figures, heroes, if you will, that leave a lasting imprint on our lives, even if in a subtle way. I will always remember Gary Carter for the many joys and inspiration he provided for me during those glory days that turned a hapless and hopeless franchise into a World Series Champion.

So, I bid farewell to a man of virtue and courage, who stood up for what he believed, despite the criticism, and because of this was often misunderstood.  But, through it all, he never wavered in his love for God, his wife and children and the game that he played with the passion, joy and enthusiasm of a kid...

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said, Carter brought this Mets fan so many great memories. A true role model,not the commercialized so- called heroes that we have today. Anybody can point to the sky,it takes a true hero to stand up for his faith and be able to share it with the world.

Carlos Espinosa said...

Thank you. He really was from a different mold of men who knew they were role models and lived their lives accordingly. God bless.