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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Gary Carter: Losing the Kid Means Losing our Innocence



On Thursday February 16, 2012, the world of sports lost a legend and the society lost an example. Gary Carter was more than an athlete. He was a role model and he understood that. When he joined the New York Mets in 1985, he was already an established player in baseball.

He had been a five time All-star with the Montreal Expos. He was unhappy with the direction of the team and when management began their fire sale, he was one of the casualties. What was Montreal's loss was New York's gain. He, along with Keith Hernandez, were the veteran leaders of those 1985 and 1986 Mets teams. It was Carter who had big hit after big hit to win games or extend rallies.

This is not uncommon knowledge to the average Mets fan. What may be more surprising is how he was respected by his teammates for his straight-line lifestyle. While the younger players partied and brawled, ridiculing him all the while for not participating in the wild side of  the team, he was happy to be a recluse on the road and a home body all other times.

He was a man that didn't smoke, do drugs, do steroids, didn't drink really, attended church faithfully and loved his family, fans and his life.  Boring to the core as far as journalists were concerned for the sake of creating headlines.

He was a public relations dream. A man that played hard every second of every game, embraced the game, the fans, the organization and the team while living a clean life off the field and being a positive example and face of the team in his spare time.

Gary Carter represents something different for every fan. To the Red Sox fan, he was the man that never gave up in the 1986 World Series and they wish he had. To the Yankees fan, he was the example of what they wanted their players to be like: clutch and leaving it all on the field.

To the average baseball fan, he was an example of how to play the game of life as well as the one on the diamond. To the average Mets fan, he was a symbol of what was once a great time for the franchise. To me, however, he was a little more personal. Let me explain.

I began watching sports as a child living in southern New Jersey. In my area at the time there was one team that played on TV during the summer, the Phillies. On cable, there was the Atlanta Braves and Chicago Cubs.

When I was first discovering baseball, cable was still an unexplored medium. It was expensive and rarely found in the average home. My family finally gave in and invested in it.

The first time I watched Channel 9 WWOR I saw a team wearing blue and playing in a blue stadium. I was immediately interested as blue was my favorite color. I fell in love with the team when those guys in blue won on a walk-off hit.

As I grew into being a fan, I chose a favorite player, like we all do. I noticed a player playing the game with enthusiasm and a passion that was unequaled. I wanted to cheer for that guy. It was Gary Carter.

As time passed by, I began to realize it is better to cheer for the name on the front of the shirt and not on the back of it. Players inevitably leave and so Carter did as well.

When I made the choice to stay loyal to my team, I symbolically made a vow to be devoted through good and bad times, through great players and terrible ones, through prospect flops and prospect trades and everything else this team can throw at me. The team has tested that faithfulness for the next 25 years. Still, the lessons I learned from that day stay with me even now.

Gary Carter meant was baseball to me. He was everything I wanted to be and proof that it was possible to attain. He was a man that was the standard of integrity and character. The things that are seldom honored or celebrated these days.

Society would rather embrace the mistake-ridden celebrities and drama-filled empty vessels on reality shows. Who will fly a flag at half staff for Carter? Who will stand up and say THIS is what our children should strive to be?

In this time of chaos, selfish indulgence and preoccupation, the life of Gary Carter is a reminder of what once was. It hearkens me back to a time when the world was still new. When everything was still before and all things were possible. Now with the stained glass tainted by the graffiti of life, it is hard to recall that little boy that once looked upon life with such optimism and promise.

While I am certain life is still filled with promise in the right circumstances, I am older and wiser now. As are we all. Losing Kid Carter today is a loss of the kid in all of us. We will no longer be able to draw from the well of our memories and be comforted by the fact that all of our heroes of that better day are still among us.

That day is gone. Gone,but not forgotten. Like Gary Cater.



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