Gary Carter, the Hall-of-Fame catcher who played his heart out for the New York Mets, passed away on Feb.16, 2012, after a difficult battle with brain cancer.
However, I am sure that Gary would not want us to mourn his passing, but rather to celebrate his many accomplishments. He was a leader, both on and off the field, a player not shy about showing his exuberance. Yes, exuberance, not showmanship. Carter's trademark may have been his huge grin or his double-arm pump, both natural reactions to a great play. Back in the '80s, exhibiting emotions, except maybe on the really big plays, were less common. Athletes today seem to find cause for celebration if they make a routine play.
I was only 34 when Carter joined the New York Mets in 1985. As a long-time fan, I was excited that GM Frank Cashen acquired the highly regarded Montreal Expos catcher during the offseason. Carter was already an All-Star seven times and would add another four to that total. He was a great offensive and defensive catcher with a reputation for knowing the game and working well with pitchers.
In 1985, I made sure that I attended the opening-day game and was not disappointed. It was exciting watching Dwight Gooden pitch and Keith Hernandez play first base, but the crowd wanted to watch the "Kid". The first time he stepped up to the plate, he was hit by the pitch; the following times were a strikeout, ground-ball out, double, and hit by yet another pitch. At that point, he wasn't having a bad day, 1-for-3, on base three times.
However, the gods of baseball glory hadn't finished putting Gary to the test. In the bottom of the 10th inning, with the score knotted 5-5 and one out, Carter rocked a pitch to left field, giving the Mets another opening-day victory and the crowd reason to celebrate. My friends and I stayed for the whole game, chanting for Carter to come out for a curtain call and roared with approval when he pumped his arms into the air. I knew that New York had a legitimate star and would be a better team.
Carter added a dimension to the team that had been missing. A role model, a hard-working professional who, history has shown, not only excelled at the game but in life.
Morris is a native New Yorker who has suffered with the Mets since their first game at the Polo Grounds. Among his fondest memories is the line drive Mookie hit past Boston's Bil Buckner!.