Friday, February 17, 2012

So Long, Kid

By Allen Bacon, The Daily Bosco

Gary Carter, the Major League Hall of Fame Baseball player who was born in Culver City and raised in Fullerton and honed his skills in Fullerton ballparks, has lost his battle with Brain Cancer. Carter died at the age of 57 on Thursday morning.

Ironically, it is the official start of Division 1 college baseball today. It was as if one season ended yesterday and a new one starts today. Adding to the irony is the fact that one of those games is Cal State Fullerton (Gary's hometown college team) against Florida (his home when he passed yesterday).

Carter, affectionately nicknamed "The Kid" because of his youthful enthusiasm for the game of baseball and positive attitude, grew up in my hometown of Fullerton and played baseball at Nicholas Park (West Fullerton Little League), Amerige Park (Fullerton PONY Baseball) and for his alma mater Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton.

“Besides being an outstanding player, Gary Carter exemplified the kind of person that parents hope their Little Leaguer can become,” said Stephen D. Keener, president and chief executive officer of Little League Baseball. “He truly was one of the good guys.”

Carter played for the West Fullerton Little League Major Red Sox, mentored through his Little League baseball years by his father, Jim Carter.

Gary went on to become one of the game’s dominant players, and one of only four catchers with 2,000 hits, 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBIs and 300 homers. (The others are Hall of Famers Yogi Berra, Carlton Fisk and Johnny Bench.)

Gary and his father, James, were guests of Little League Baseball in Williamsport in 1985, when Mr. Carter received the Parents of the Year Award.

“My dad was my coach, but he was also my best friend while growing up,” Gary said in a story published in the 1985 Little League Baseball World Series program. “You see, my mom passed away when I was a kid playing Little League. Little League seemed to be the saving grace at the time. My dad and I became even closer after her passing and much of our time was spent on the Little League field."

In 1985, Gary’s parents were named Little League Parents of the Year for their involvement in West Fullerton Little League, and in 1993, Gary was presented with the Bill Shea Distinguished Little League Graduate Award. He remained, all through his life, one of Little League’s greatest supporters.

A few years ago Gary returned to his hometown to manage the Fullerton Flyer Minor League baseball team. With his enthusiasm and his love of the game and city, he led the Flyers to a Golden League Championship in his very first year.

It was around that time that officials with West Fullerton Little League approached Carter about renaming the Major Field after him. Carter declined but insisted the field be named after his father, James, who he credits with his success in baseball. As a side note, I think it would be fitting now to rename the field James and Gary Carter Field.

The longtime New York Met went into the Hall of Fame wearing a Montreal Expos hat, but is widely recalled for his time in New York, where he spent five of his 19 seasons, including a World Series title in 1986, his first year behind the plate for the Mets.

He also added 12 years with the Expos where he started his Major League Career and one each with the Giants and Dodgers. At the end of the day, Carter hit .262/.335/.439 with 2,092 hits and 324 home runs.

Carter was a manager for West Palm Beach Atlantic University when he was diagnosed last May and was able to visit the team as they began their 2012 campaign two weeks ago. Gary went out a winner there too as his team was 5-2 before he passed away on Thursday. In true Gary Carter fashion, his love of family was foremost. The reason why Gary found his way to West Palm Beach was to be close to his family. His daughter is the head softball coach at West Palm Beach Atlantic University.

In an emotional ceremony last season at a baseball game in New York there was a "Stand Up to Cancer" day. People came with signs about their loved ones supporting relatives and friends with Cancer. Ron Darling, the pitcher, and Carter's battery mate on the 1986 World Champion Mets held up a sign in support of Carter which simply stated "My Catcher". Carter saw the sign while watching the game from his home and text Ron Darling with a message of appreciation. "I don't know if Gary was crying as he text the message...but I was overcome with emotion when I saw that text", said Darling.

"My wife, Sandy, and our children and family thank you for your thoughts and prayers," Carter told his fans when he was diagnosed last year.

Thank you Kid. You will be missed.

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