About 18 months ago I came here to write on the career of Ken Griffey Junior. He had just retired and it tugged at me because of what Junior meant to me as a baseball fan, player, and an athlete in general. Today I write about another player who had just as much of an impact on me. My FIRST Favorite player. Someone who shared the nickname “Kid” with Griffey. Unfortunately, it isn’t a retirement that brings me to my keyboard today. Last night Gary Carter lost a long battle with brain cancer. He was 57.

I was born into being a Mets fan, and it was cemented with the fact that they were really really good, when I was coming into a sports conciousness as a 7/8 year old. Yesterday I was talking with someone about the death of Carter and, basically rattled through their entire lineup. It surprised me that those players and their positions stuck with me. Just like I can vividly remember the #8. The curly hair sticking out from an earflapless helmet. That helmet. That hair.

In 1987 I made my first trip to Shea Stadium. Myself, my parents, and my Uncle Tom who bought the tickets. I remember two things about that warm summer day. 1 – I was pretty sure they were booing Mookie Wilson (I was informed the crowd was in fact saying “MOOOOOOO”) – and the second was how excited I was when Gary Carter stepped to the plate.

What else I remember? That smile. Its funny as I sat down and couldn’t help, but think about Griffey Jr. and Gary. For most two players that don’t share a lot, outside of a nickname, but there was that smile. Part of what got each of them nicknamed “The Kid”. A smile that was filled with the joy of playing a game. A smile that said “How did I end up THIS lucky?!” One of my favorite pieces of memorabilia-slash toy was one of two Starting Lineups I owned. I remember the same Uncle and I went to a local K-Mart and he told me to pick something out. So scouring a few aisles, I went with a Starting Lineup. The player? Gary Carter.

To watch Gary play is to watch someone who loved baseball. Loved whe he did, and it was never lost on him exactly what it meant to him. Reading “The Bad Guys Won”, it was further driven home that I picked the right player to idolize. He would annoy his teammates, and hold up busses because he’d stop and sign autographs. In a clubhouse that was notorious see: “The Bad Guys Won”, or at least remember names like Dykstra, Strawberry, Gooden… He was many times mocked cuz surrounded by partiers he was squeeky clean. Playing so close to Madison Avenue he was someone advertisers could trust to be the face of their products.

In 1986 World Series. Game 6. Yes. THAT Game 6. He stepped up in the 9th. With two outs he singled to keep the Mets hope alive. Most of you might know what happened in that game. Eventually that led to Mookie Wilson’s single. Bill Buckner’s infamous error, and the Mets winning in 7 games. That last pitch is forever seered into my mind. Orosco’s awkward fall off the mound delivery. The strike 3 call. And then Gary. With the exhuberence of a child on Christmas Morning. Leaping. Arms swinging wildly. He met Orosco on the mound before being buried under a pile of teammates. What Carter had said about that at bat in 2010:

“You know, I wasn’t going to make the last out of the World Series. I had dreamed that dream so many times of setting the tone and imagining what it would be like to be there, and coming up there with the bases loaded and two outs and a two-strike count and coming through with a big hit. I lived the dream. As a kid, growing up, that’s all I ever thought about — one day, being on that stage. It’s such a fond memory and it’s hard to believe that next year will be the 25-year anniversary of that World Series.”

Fitting that his last ever major league at bat was a go ahead double with the Montreal Expos. He reached 2nd base and while his skills had deteriorated, and his body wasn’t what it once was. One thing remained as he reached 2nd base. That smile that lit up arenas and inspired a generation of fans and players alike. He LOVED this game. And that showed in how he attacked each and every day he played, and even after he was done. Coaching at low levels. The last two seasons he was the coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University.

“Nobody loved the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. Nobody enjoyed playing the game of baseball more than Gary Carter. He wore his heart on his sleeve every inning he played,” Mets Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver said.

Its a sad day for baseball. It lost a great ambassador. A Hall of Famer. One of the best players EVER at his position, and an even better person. We fans mourn the loss of a great player. People who knew him mourn the loss of a great man. His family mourns the loss of a husband, father, and friend.

His Hall of Fame plaque reads:

“An exuberant on-field general with a signature smile who was known for clutch hitting and rock-solid defense over 19 seasons,” reads his Hall plaque.

One of my other favorite Mets from that team sums it up perfectly.

“Gary was one of the happiest guys in the world every day,” Mets teammate Mookie Wilson once said.

At every level, no matter what he did it was a recurrent theme through out Gary’s life. It comes back to his exhuberence. His ability to throw himself into whatever he was doing, and that smile.