Late this afternoon news broke that former Mets and Expos Hall of Fame catcher Gary Carter lost his battle with brain cancer. I was driving when I heard the news, passed along by Mike Francesa on WFAN, and, although I didn’t know the man, and I had never seen him play, I couldn’t help but feel terrible. I don’t know anything about Mr. Carter or Mr. Carter’s family, and my thoughts are with them at this time, but what I do know about Gary Carter is folklore: the walk-off single in Game Five of the 1986 NLCS; the two homers in Game Four of the ’86 World Series that sailed over the Green Monster; starting the rally with a two-out single in Game Six, culminated by the Buckner play. You see, I know these things about Gary Carter because my father was a Mets fan, and an avid one at that.
We didn’t spend a lot of time together when I was a kid, he often worked long hours, but we both loved sports, and baseball in particular. He used to leave me with the sports section of the Bergen Record every morning, and I consumed Bob Klapisch’s columns like they were gospel. When we did get a chance to talk, though, he often waxed poetic about the ’86 Mets. It was the fact that he was a fan of those Mets teams in the late-80’s that I became a Yankee fan, of all things. In 1995 the Yankees would trade for David Cone and sign Darryl Strawberry; they would also sign Dwight Gooden a year later. I was able to become a Yankee fan because these players offered me a connection between father and son.
My father passed away of a respiratory attack in June of 1997, during the tail-end of the school year, and in the midst of my Little League season. I was in the fourth grade at the time, and, while I would never attend school for the duration of my father’s hospital stay, I would routinely show up for practices and games. For me, baseball was my refuge from the grim realities of my life. To this day, baseball remains my one true love because of this – it provides the rare ability to not only serve as a refuge from real life, but also as one of the last remaining vestiges of the bonds I shared with my father. This, I suppose, is why I felt so sad at the news of Gary Carter’s one-sided battle with cancer – it felt as if I had lost a piece of my father’s memory.
Baseball is, more or less, a game of memories and it’s these memories that make it America’s pastime. My father was an immigrant who grew to love the game. It was never his childhood sport (as it was mine) but he was, nonetheless, able to impart his memories and his love of the game to his son – who would carry them in his stead. His memories of Carter and Strawberry and Gooden and Cone and Keith Hernandez and Lenny Dykstra and countless other ballplayers will always live in me.
That is what is amazing about, not just baseball, but sports, in general – that, no matter what, no one can take away your memories.