remembering the Kid

The weather has been spring-like and pitchers and catchers have reported for spring training, so maybe it isn’t such a bad idea share some baseball-related thoughts in mid February. Among the obituaries of last week was one for baseball catcher and Hall of Famer, Cary Gary. It may have been overwhelmed by the glitter of celebrities celebrating the life of Whitney Houston, but it merited much sadness and sympathy on the part of his teammates, sports writers, and baseball fans…particularly Mets fans such as I who remember 1986.
It is certainly not appropriate to whittle the substance of Gary Carter down to one at bat. His whole life was a spiritual journey, one that had to bring him peace when he passed as a result of brain tumors at the age of 57. He approached every day thinking that he was blessed to be living this life. Even though he already had bad knees when he was in high school and was overlooked for that reason by most scouts, he was a catcher for 19 years with professional teams. He played with enthusiasm and intensity–and thus his nickname of Kid–always running on and off the field, welcoming every at-bat as though it was his opportunity to make a difference in a game. And in that, he truly did.
It was that one at-bat in the tenth inning of game 6 in the World Series of 1986 that made the last World Championship of the New York Mets possible. This is not only a baseball moment, but in that sports can be a metaphor for life, it can be an inspiration and a lesson for us all.
Boston was leading the Mets in the best of seven series by three games to two. So if the Red Sox won this one, they were World Champs. The score was tied in the ninth, and in the top of the tenth the Red Sox had scored two. There were two out in the bottom of the tenth and no one on base when Carter came to the plate. To paraphrase “Casey at the Bat”: the outlook wasn’t brilliant for the New York Mets that night. We have all witnessed games where that situation was a death knell. But Carter laced a single. A ray of light shone through, and it was enough to turn the tide. In a climatic ending (more singles, a balk, and then Bill Buckner booting Mookie Wilson’s grounder) the Mets won that game…and the next. Championship! Jubilation! Ticker-tape parad! Heroes to millions!
This may seem ho-hum if you are not a baseball fan, but let me share something that I gleaned from children’s author Betty Bao Lord: baseball is the truly American sport because at any moment an individual can make a difference. With no clock, there is always time and a glimmer of hope.
I’ve told this to many classes of fifth graders, and I hope that some have taken it along with them. Gary Carter believed it, and it should be a touchstone for each of us as we face the odds in our lives.
Ron Darling, one of his pitchers, called him “one of the great gladiators of the game”. May we each have the spirit that it is possible.

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