"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack. And they'll walk out to the bleachers; sit in shirtsleeves on a perfect afternoon. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces. People will come Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh... people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." – Terence Mann (James Earl Jones), Field of Dreams, 1989
And so they did. They came to Olympic Stadium in Montreal and they came to Shea Stadium in Flushing. They came to see the grown man with the curly mop of hair and the broad grin, the grown man already with crows feet around the eyes by the time he came to the Mets, the man they called "Kid."
I don't think Mr. Brilliant has had a happier day in his life than the day he came home from work singing an ode to hope that consisted of nothing but a repetition of "We got Gary Carter!". That 1985 season was arguably more fun than the World Series-winning season that would follow. It started with Carter hitting a walk-off home run to win against the Cardinals on April 9, 1985, and as the season went on, we saw the promise of the juggernaut that was to come the following year to steamroller its way over the entire National League.
Gary Carter was one of those guys that you couldn't help but grin when you saw him play. His joie de vivre
was palpable on a TV screen or in the upper deck boxes. Every now and then in professional sports you see someone like this -- a player who just exudes joy in the game. Carter was one. José Reyes was another and may still be. In football, the Giants' Victor Cruz is another. So is the Knicks' new sensation Jeremy Lin. These guys love their game and invite you to love it too.
Gary Carter was something else, though we didn't really know the extent of it when he was playing. He was a devout Christian and cited his born-again experience as being in 1973, long before he became a hero in Flushing. As Darryl Strawberry said to Mike Francesa on WFAN tonight, Carter's faith informed every part of his life, but he never forced anything on anyone. I have no doubt that Carter thanked his savior after every win, but his relationship with his God was a personal one. I never once heard Carter invoke Jesus in a post-game interview. He never felt the need to ostentatiously kneel after every home run or thrown-out batter at second. He was just Kid...just a great ballplayer who seemed like, and apparently was, a Really Good Guy; devoted to his family, his teammates, and very quietly, his God.
I'm glad he had this, as the cancer that took his life today bulldozed it's way through his brain. I saw a photograph of him from just a few weeks ago, his face almost unrecognizably swollen from the steroids he was on to keep him comfortable, as he attended opening day for the college baseball team he coached. It was a terrible sight, but burning through were the eyes of The Kid, the genuinely happy man who had walked the walk without needing to constantly talk the talk.
As I write this, we are watching that April 9, 1985 game on SNY. It was nearly twenty-six years ago, Dwight Gooden vs. Joaquin Andujar. Those players are all middle-aged men now but on TV they are forever young, forever at the top of their game. And there is Kid, shaking off a fastball hit on the elbow. For all that I don't believe in the Christian notion of heaven, I hope there is one for Gary Carter, one where he can see the parents he missed so much on that day in 2003 when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. And I hope there is a Field of Dreams there, where he can once again flash that grin and hit home runs and be young and healthy.
Yes, for half a decade, we had Gary Carter. And now he is gone. Thanks for the memories, Kid. Rest well.
Labels: New York Mets, obituaries, Real Christians