I didn’t grow up as your typical Canadian kid. I really wasn’t much of a skater, and the appeal of our national pastime as an active sporting pursuit didn’t hold much for me. Baseball, on the other hand, was an all consuming passion in my early years. It got that way because of my Dad’s love of the sport, the Montreal Expos, and Gary Carter.
The news of Gary Carter’s death reached me in an odd, yet appropriate way. Sitting at a hockey game with my Dad, I got a text from my sister. I showed it to Dad. We looked up the news story online, shared a recollection of meeting him in 1983 during batting practice before an Expos game in Montreal, and laughed at how I was in complete shock meeting my idol at the tender age of 9. My memory of the five minute encounter with Gary Carter is only alive in pieces in my mind. I remember him jogging along the right field line toward the Expos dugout, my Dad calling out to him with the name of a common acquaintance, him noticing, smiling, then jogging toward us. I remember him signing a baseball for me, wishing me the best with my little league baseball season, then jogging off. The rest of the time he spent with me and my Dad is lost in the blur of a young boy meeting the baseball player he idolized.
Dad and I turned our attention back to the hockey game in front of us and I didn’t think about it until later that night. After I got home, I followed the tributes pouring in across Twitter, read articles on Montreal newspaper websites and watched video clips of Carter’s career highlights. The ones that took place under an open roofed Olympic Stadium jammed with fans started the memories flooding back. I recalled games my Dad and I attended in the early 80s in an electric Big O where we got to meet Andre Dawson, Woody Fryman, and Steve Rodgers, and of the last games we saw together in Montreal before the Expos left us for good. I thought of my Dad getting the attention of Youppi!, the Expos mascot, for a picture with me (a picture that proudly hangs in my home office today). That Youppi! would tickle your ear with his furry orange fingers to make you laugh for the picture still brings a smile to my face. I remembered how I fell asleep every night looking at a Gary Carter poster on my door, dreaming of playing for the Expos. The memories of the games – the wins and losses (and the Expos lost most of the time I saw them play) – don’t matter that much. The memories that stick around are those of me and my Dad and our trips to watch our beloved Expos.
Through my early life obsession with Gary Carter and the Montreal Expos, my Dad and I built a life-long shared bond, and for this I owe Mr. Carter a debt of thanks. His abilities and persona captured my attention while I watched him play on TV and his willingness to spend five minutes with my 9 year old self seeded something very important. To this day, my Dad and I can get lost debating the merits of a particular pitch, why the DH needs to be scrapped, or why left handed first basemen are a key to successful infield defence.
I still have that autographed ball from 1983, but that’s only the second best thing Gary Carter gave me.