This kid remembers The Kid's kindness

Robin
Robin Short
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I had only met him once, 30-something years ago, at a ball field in Florida.

Gary Carter was my hero. I actually had three idols back then - Reggie Jackson and Guy Lafleur being the others.

Decades have passed, yet I still remember the chance meeting with the Montreal Expos catcher.

Because he was so darned nice.

Carter was instructing at a baseball school, which explains why he's wearing his familiar powder blue No. 8 Expos uniform in the picture, smiling with the chubby kid with the big glasses.

I remember Carter chatting for 10 or 15 minutes with my father, the two talking about the newest player for whom the Expos had just traded, the troubled Ron LeFlore from the Detroit Tigers. I remember Carter asking about Newfoundland, wondering if I'd played ball.

And I recall him telling my father to go grab a camera, that he'd be at the ball park for the next little while.

Gary Carter, as everyone knows by now, died Thursday. He was only 57, and while I didn't know the man, I still felt a fair degree of sadness.

For with Carter's death was another part of my past - granted, a meagre piece - erased.

I have a lot of photos hanging on the walls of my garage, of athletes from yesterday, most of whom I have met over the years through the job.

There is not a single picture of any from today's era, or even the '90s.

Because the Carters, and the Jacksons, the Lafleurs, Robinsons, Sittlers, Orrs and Gretzkys bring me back to my youth, when I was a young fan instead of a sports writer going about his work.

I met Jackson once, a few years ago during the final summer of old Yankee Stadium.

He and I were walking inside, through the bowels the old ball park on the way up to the press box, when I told him it was a thrill meeting him.

For the same reason: it reminded me of my youth.

While I admire Derek Jeter and a handful of other ball players and hockey players today, I have no desire to seek them out and shake their hands.

Probably because I'm 47. Mostly because they mean nothing to me.

Jackson told me he understood. Mr. October had thrown out the first ball at the All-Star game that summer in New York, but his biggest thrill, he said, was standing between Willie Mays and Henry Aaron, his two boyhood heroes, during the opening ceremonies.

"I've got goosebumps talking about it," I distinctly recall him saying.

Sports has changed today. No longer do the hockey players sign autographs along the glass in the warmups. Rare is the baseball player working at winter camps, because they make so darned much these days. Very, very few sign before games, opting instead to ink lucrative contracts with memorabilia companies for exclusive autographed material.

Kids can no longer hang out at the hockey arena and baseball ball park exits waiting for a glimpse for the players, because the new facilities have underground parking, allowing the athletes a quick and easy exit.

Imagine A-Rod working at a baseball school today, let alone spending 15 minutes with a man and his kid chatting, telling them to go fetch a camera and come on back for a picture.

Funny thing about Carter, but it's that warmth and kindness that sometimes made him a bit of a pariah in his own locker room.

I've read he was sometimes ridiculed behind his back by teammates, who dubbed him "Lights" for his penchant for being in front of the camera.

Now, in the days following his death, most of those he played with acknowledge it was not an act, but rather a genuine affability.

Which brings me to something I don't quite understand: how is it someone like Carter - good-mannered family man, a Christian - was mocked on a Mets team full of misfits, yet characters such as Darryl Strawberry, Dwight Gooden and Len Dykstra - none of whom you'd want your children to emulate - were revered (Strawberry is quoted as saying he understands now that Carter was the embodiment of a professional)?

Why is Ray Lewis celebrated, and Tim Tebow jeered?

Maybe I've become an old fart before my time. Maybe I've become the proverbial jaded scribe.

Not sure. I do know one thing, though. For a few minutes a long time ago, Gary Carter gave a young fan a lasting memory he will never forget.

Robin Short is The Telegram's Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com

Organizations: Montreal Expos, Detroit Tigers, Mets

Geographic location: Florida, Newfoundland, Yankee Stadium New York

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  • Randall Stevens
    February 19, 2012 - 13:10

    GREAT piece Robin. And kudos to "KT" for his tribute as well. You're certainly not an Old Fart. Carter was one of baseball's true class acts, and while his Mets broke my heart when they defeated my Beloved Red Sox in '86, The Kid will forever be an Expo in my book. You'll be missed, Gary..............