"The Kid" Gary Carter passed away today at the age of 57. I say it out loud and am still shaking my head. I feel as though a part of my youth has left me, far too soon.
I had heard that he'd been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour last May. My heart sank - a lot. My gut just told me that as much as he would battle, it wasn't so much an 'if'......but 'when'.
That 'when' was today.....and it hit me harder than I expected.
I was a hockey card guy growing up in the Prairie province of Alberta, Canada, but every summer I would turn my allegiance to baseball and always desirable O-Pee-Chee packs. I remember loving the Expos cards because of the 'different colors'. The Blue, Red, White (and green on those 1981 beauties) just popped in comparison to any other cards in the set.
But it wasn't until 1983 that I found the card that would become one of my all-time favorites.
The blue uniform, the sprint from behind home plate, the perfect timing of the photographer as Gary pulls his mask off, the catcher's mitt, the chest protector, the emotion on Carter's face, the head shot inset, the batting helmet with no ear flaps, the curly hair and that smile.
Gary Carter instantly became 'my guy'.
I loved watching him play. I loved the enjoyment he exuded combined with the competitive streak that drove him.
I loved how he led those early 80's Expo teams (which had some pretty amazing players at his side).
But most of all, I loved hearing Gary Carter talk. He spoke with such enthusiasm for the game of baseball and with such a feeling of honesty when it came to his love and success in the sport.
His speech from 2003 when he was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame is just so simple, but I can't help but see in my mind - vividly - the picture he paints with his words.
I was thrilled in 1986 when he won his World Series championship and I can still visualize his 10th inning hit that led off the most amazing turn of events I've ever witnessed in sport.
As much as I wanted to see him win a ring with the Expos, just seeing him play a huge role in that championship run put a huge smile on my face.
But as much as '86 is a lasting memory for all Gary Carter fans, to me the moment that resonates most was his final game....his final at bat.
Gary returned to the Expos in 1992 to play his final major league season. In a scoreless game against the Chicago Cubs in September that year, Gary came up to bat in the seventh inning and gave the home crowd one last hurrah.
*added bonus - Harry Caray's call. Perfect.
"I saw (Cubs outfielder) Andre (Dawson) going back on the ball and I said to myself, 'Please don't catch it," Carter said at the time. "Then, when it got by him, it was like, 'Wow! Awesome!' What a great way to finish."
And today.....like that, he's gone. As much as I am sad and send my condolences to Gary's family, I can't help but celebrate all the great memories he has given me. The video highlights, interviews and baseball cards will forever bring a smile to my face.