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Keidel: Gary Carter Touches Home Plate

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Catcher Gary Carter #8 of the New York Mets tags out Jim Rice #14 of the Boston Red Sox during game 7 of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium on October 27, 1986 in Flushing, New York. The Mets won the series 4-3. (Photo by T.G. Higgins/Getty Images)

Catcher Gary Carter #8 of the New York Mets tags out Jim Rice #14 of the Boston Red Sox during game 7 of the 1986 World Series at Shea Stadium on October 27, 1986 in Flushing, New York. The Mets won the series 4-3. (Photo by T.G. Higgins/Getty Images)

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By Jason Keidel
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Perhaps you can park your Linsanity for a few moments while we shift our eyes from someone who’s had a good week to someone who had a great life.

As with Whitney Houston and other entertainers of great acclaim, we measure our lives by the smiles they put on our lips and the joyous trips down memory lane, a path lighted by their gifts, to a place where not only they were great and young, but perhaps we were, as well. And if we weren’t, we could reach those high clouds while tethered to their talents.

Someone I respect once told me that if you believe in God, act as if He’s watching, and later discover that there is no God, then you’re still way ahead of the game. You needn’t be religious to understand the wisdom in those words.

So it was with Gary Carter, who died about two hours ago. No need to parse the particulars; doctors have that covered. All we need to know is that we lost a hero in a sport and a world with a dearth of decency. Carter never caved into the me-first mantras, groin-grabbing theatrics, and visceral narcissism that define the modern player. And we thank him for it.

And it was altogether fitting that he was fitted for a mask, as he never sought the camera or the credit, all of his deeds far more muted while he doubled as catcher, captain, and pitching psychologist for an eclectic pitching staff.

Gary Carter played a man’s game with a child’s glee, hence his handle, “The Kid.” And as much as Mets fans worshipped at the altar of No. 8, I think you had to be a Yankees fan to feel his full impact. For this fan, when it got too gory in the Bronx I quietly watched the glory in Flushing. Many of us who pledged to pinstripes secretly nudged the dial two clicks, from WPIX to WOR, from Phil Rizzuto to Tim McCarver, to see what good baseball was really like.

It’s hard to hate a team or a player when they can’t play. Indeed, the mid-‘80s Mets were everything the Yankees weren’t – stable, selfless, prosperous, and wildly talented. Like a young, wild horse in need of a good jockey, the Mets – renowned for playing hard and partying harder at night – needed someone of Carter’s heft and reputation to keep the bar-brawling Mets in check.

Every time we talk about that team there’s a sense of a charmed but also cheated existence, as all of us in New York City who were alive and lucid at the time realize that team had the studs to win three or four World Series rings, yet they got just one. No one, however, disputes Carter’s effort or eminence. Indeed, the Mets don’t even get that one ring if Carter doesn’t swat a line drive to keep the inning alive on a chilly night in Queens. The next bad thing said about Carter will be the first, and that testimonial sparkles beyond the sheen of a baseball diamond.

Religion is a keenly personal matter and, in her statement, Carter’s daughter said that her father is now with Jesus. The existence of one deity or another is above my pay grade. But if there’s a good God out there, I have no doubt he’s now got Gary Carter behind the plate.

Feel free to email me: Keidel.jason@gmail.com

www.twitter.com/JasonKeidel

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