Thursday, February 16, 2012

When The Kid was the Champ

They called Gary Carter the "Kid" for the enthusiasm that he brought to every game, that was as apparent as his curly hair and his movie star smile. But really, he was “The Man.” When he arrived in 1985, he was the final piece to a future championship team filled with shall we say a group of immensely talented, rambunctious young ballplayers (and a few assorted nut balls, delinquents and future convicts.)

He fit the team and New York like a catcher’s mitt fit his hand and his arrival gave the team a needed jolt like when the Big Man joined the band. I remember when Carter hit a home run during the first game he played for the Mets and will never forget the single he got that ignited the comeback in Game 6. This had me running up and down the steps in my house shouting “Oh My God,” "Holy Shit" and other nonsensical words repeatedly with unhinged exuberance, as the ball rolled slowly past Buckner and into history. It was a feeling that should never be condensed into an OMG text.

I also remember during that time back in the mid ‘80s, The Right Stuff had come out a few years earlier and it pitted John Glenn’s “Mr. Clean Marine” character against Alan Shepard and the other astronauts. I remember thinking that Gary Carter seemed to be the John Glenn of the Mets and Alan Shepard was akin to Keith Hernandez(although I'm pretty sure I never used the word akin in junior high, it was probably more "he's totally like Shepard.")

Even though Glenn didn’t approve of the extracurricular fun the other guys were having with the local Cape Canaveral space groupies, they knew when to pull together in order to achieve their mission of beating the Russians (and a chimp) into space. (1) That Met team pulled together in similar fashion to dominate the National League, before winning thrilling playoff victories over the Astros, the Red Sox and the mighty Joe Piscopo.

Carter’s swing was a compact force that propelled line drives to left field. He seemed to rely only on the strength of his arms, which made him appear imposing at the plate. That was during an era when ballplayers looked like regular guys and not muscle bound giants. I wouldn't trade being a Mets fan during the '80s as a teenager(even though they won just once) for all the Yankee championships that took place when I was a man in my 20s.

I should probably now resent the fact that I chose the Mets way back in 1984. Let's just say, I have gotten mad at women I have dated but I never shouted at them for wasting my F'in time the way I do while watching Mets games in recent years. But, the fact is the Mets weren't just good back then, they were fun and there's one thing you can always say about the Mets, when they win, it’s never routine, it’s always amazing. Billy Joel once sang “Only the Good Die Young” (2) but Gary Carter made sure that the bad guys won.

1) The Soviets did beat the Mercury astronauts into space but "Ham" the chimp beat both Shepard and the Soviet astronauts. Glenn, Shepard and the other Mercury astronauts came together like a team. They turned their capsule into a ship they could pilot instead of just ride in and Glenn did become the first human to orbit the Earth.
Of course, neither John Glenn nor Alan Shepherd ever had to deal with Mike Scott’s scuffed split-fingered balls (that sounds disgusting.) I’m not positive, but I’m also pretty sure that Scott Carpenter never almost blew Gus Grissom’s head off with a shotgun (Google Kevin Mitchell and crazy.)

I didn’t analyze the Mercury 7/ Mets comparison further and compare the more obscure astronauts in the film like Wally Schirra and Deke Slayton to Danny Heep and Tim Teufel. I mean, I was 14 and the only deep analysis I was doing was comparing Heather Locklear to Heather Thomas and Fast Times at Ridgemont High to Valley Girl (whole other post.)

Of course, this was before Billy Joel slept with Christie Brinkley and lost his morose, darkly poetic, yet pop sensibility. After getting himself “in deep” in her swimming pool of beauty, he went from writing songs like "Capt. Jack" and "Pressure" to “Tell Her About it” and “Uptown Girl," which can only be listened to by 13 years olds, drunk 23 year olds and anyone drooling under heavy Novacaine in the dentist's office.

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