Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond by Gary Carter, Phil Pepe |, Hardcover | Barnes & Noble
Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond

Still a Kid at Heart: My Life in Baseball and Beyond

by Gary Carter, Phil Pepe
     
 

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In 1992, Gary Carter found himself at a crossroads: finished with one career, ready to start another. At age 38, he was too old for baseball but too young to just do nothing. As a baseball player, Carter had forged a stellar 19-year resume with the Montreal Expos, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers that earned him the pinnacle of his

Overview

In 1992, Gary Carter found himself at a crossroads: finished with one career, ready to start another. At age 38, he was too old for baseball but too young to just do nothing. As a baseball player, Carter had forged a stellar 19-year resume with the Montreal Expos, New York Mets, San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers that earned him the pinnacle of his profession-election to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2003.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781600780547
Publisher:
Triumph Books
Publication date:
04/28/2008
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
764,752
Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.20(d)

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Still a Kid at Heart

My Life in Baseball and Beyond


By Gary Carter, Phil Pepe

Triumph Books

Copyright © 2008 Gary Carter and Phil Pepe
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62368-724-3



CHAPTER 1

In the Beginning


IT WAS SO QUIET, YOU COULD HEAR A CHAMPIONSHIP flag drop.

I was finishing up my second season as a member of the New York Mets, and after two years, I had no doubt that Shea Stadium, the home of the Mets in Flushing, Queens, was the noisiest ballpark in baseball.

From the jets flying overhead on those occasions when Shea was in the pattern of airplanes taking off and landing at nearby LaGuardia Airport, to the constant, incessant roar of the crowd on days and nights when Shea Stadium was filled to capacity, there were many times when the noise was so loud you could hardly hear yourself think.

This night, Saturday, October 25, Game 6 of the 1986 World Series, had been no different. From the first pitch, the crowd had been yelling, screaming, cheering, exhorting, a steady drone raining down from the stands as we battled tooth and nail with the Boston Red Sox — down 2-0 in the second, tied at 2-2 in the fifth, down 3-2 in the seventh, tied again at 3-3 in the eighth.

But now, as I walked to home plate with two outs and nobody on base in the bottom of the tenth, it was eerie. The silence was deafening. You couldn't believe 55,078 people could be so quiet.

The Red Sox had scored two runs in the top of the inning and the crowd sensed the inevitable. Everything we had accomplished over the past seven months — 108 wins, the most in the Mets' 25-year history; being 211/2 games ahead of the second-place Philadelphia Phillies; the heart-pounding, incredible six-game victory over the Houston Astros in the National League Championship Series — all seemed to be in vain.

You couldn't believe 55,078 people could be so quiet.

The huge clock on the right-field scoreboard had moved past midnight, but nobody had left the stadium. They sat silently, too shocked, too heartbroken to move.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the Red Sox in the third-base dugout, all of them on the top step, ready to rush out onto the field to celebrate their championship.

As I stepped into the batter's box, one thought kept flashing through my mind. I didn't want to be the answer to a trivia question: who made the final out of the 1986 World Series?


* * *

I never planned on being a Major League Baseball player. If I entertained any lofty ambitions at all, it was to be a quarterback in the National Football League because as a little kid and all through high school my best sport was football. In my boyhood dreams, I was going to be the next Bart Starr or Joe Namath.

I had been born into an athletic family. My dad, Jim, never played organized sports, but he was very sports-minded. His one claim to fame was that growing up in Kentucky, he attended the same school as the great Dodgers shortstop Pee Wee Reese. Later, Dad moved to California and worked in the aviation industry as an inspector of parts with Hughes Aircraft and later with McDonnell Douglas. He was always very supportive of my older brother Gordon and me in our athletic endeavors, working with us to improve, teaching us fundamentals, and attending as many of our games as he could. He was my coach in Little League, Pony League, and American Legion.

My mom was the real athlete in the family. Growing up in Illinois, she was a great swimmer who won many awards and trophies at the YWCA and was a lifeguard on Lake Michigan.

My brother Gordy, four years my senior, was my role model and my boyhood hero. I tried to do everything he did, only I wanted to do it better. There was a sibling rivalry between us, a friendly competition. If he made all-league, I wanted to do the same. If he was Player of the Year in the county, I wanted to be Player of the Year also. If he got a college athletic scholarship, I wanted a college athletic scholarship.

I tried to do everything he did, only I wanted to do it better.

Gordy was a terrific baseball player. He was drafted in the second round of the June 1968 free-agent draft (also taken in that draft were Thurman Munson, Bobby Valentine, Greg Luzinski, Garry Matthews, and Bill Buckner) by the California Angels, who offered him a signing bonus of $50,000. The Vietnam War was going on and Gordy was draft eligible, so he turned down the Angels and decided to go to USC, where he played on two NCAA championship teams for Coach Rod Dedeaux. After his junior year he was selected by the San Francisco Giants in the supplemental draft and signed for $10,000, so going to college cost him $40 grand. Gordon played two years in the minor leagues, and then left baseball and went into the restaurant business.

My big brother's success in baseball may explain why I gravitated to football. Maybe I was afraid I wouldn't be able to measure up to Gordy's success in baseball. Maybe I just wanted to do my own thing.

In 1961, the Ford Motor Company originated the "Punt, Pass, and Kick Contest," a national competition that was endorsed by the National Football League. It was a great idea, but they made the minimum age too young. It was open to kids from six to 10 years old. Later, they moved it up and made it from eight years old to 13, but in 1961 my brother was 11 and he couldn't compete. I was seven, and I could.

I won in the seven-year-old division, and I was brought to Green Bay and recognized with the other winners at halftime of the 1961 NFL Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and the New York Giants.

Fortunately, we didn't have to compete in the cold at Green Bay, but two years later I competed again as a nine-year-old and they had the finals on the field of the championship game between the Giants and the Chicago Bears at Wrigley Field. It was 25 degrees below zero that day and I was supposed to go on the field and compete. I was leading in points in my division after the kick and the punt categories; all I had to do was pass well enough to keep my lead and I would win the championship for the second time.

Picture this nine-year-old California kid who didn't have the proper warm clothing trying to throw a football in frigid Chicago. I was freezing. My hands were like ice and my little body was trembling from the cold. When I tried to throw a pass, I slipped on the frozen turf because I was wearing tennis shoes. The ball slipped out of my hand, and I ended up in second place.

Nevertheless, because I was the first winner to make it back to the finals, the Ford Motor Company brought me to New York to shoot a television commercial. My mother went with me to New York, and we visited the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, and Coney Island. Then they took us to a football field to shoot the commercial. The great sportscaster Chris Schenkel was the commentator, and if you can find a copy of the commercial, probably on eight-millimeter film, you'll see little nine-year-old Gary Carter kicking a football and saying something silly to Schenkel like, "This is exciting."

I was on top of the world at age nine, a two-time national "Punt, Pass, and Kick Contest" finalist and a "television star," but three years later my whole world came crashing down: my mom contracted leukemia and died suddenly, still in the prime of her life.

Those were difficult days for a 12-year-old. I was frightened and lonely and finding it hard to understand why God had taken my mom away from me.

Those were difficult days for a 12-year-old. I was frightened and lonely and finding it hard to understand why God had taken my mom away from me.

The one good thing that came out of it was that I had to learn to be self-sufficient. I had to grow up in a hurry. My dad would leave for work before I woke up and my brother and I would have to fend for ourselves. Dad would always be home for dinner, and he was always prompt. My brother would make dinner, and I had my responsibilities around the house. Together, Gordy and I shared the household chores, helping each other to do the vacuuming, the cleaning, and the laundry. That's how I became so domestic and why I am somewhat obsessive compulsive as far as being organized. Fortunately, to help me through that rough period, I had my older brother and my dad, who was both father and mother. And I had sports, which pretty much dictated my life.

I played baseball, basketball, and football, and I had begun to get a pretty good local reputation, especially in football, when I entered Sunny Hills High School.

In my sophomore and junior years, Parade magazine chose me as one of the top high school quarterbacks in the country. Now I was being bombarded by offers to play football from colleges all over the country. I heard from Notre Dame, Dartmouth, Colorado, all the Pac 8 schools, the Arizona schools, the Washington schools, the Oregon schools, and all the California schools — UCLA, USC, Stanford, Fresno State, San Diego State, San Jose State. Getting an athletic scholarship was important to me because my dad couldn't afford to send me to college. UCLA was the only school that would allow me to play both football and baseball, so that's where I decided to go.

By the time I was a senior in high school, I had reached my full growth of 6'2? and 198 pounds. I was the second biggest guy on my football team, and I was the quarterback. I wanted to play defense because I enjoyed contact and would have liked to play cornerback, safety, or linebacker, but my coach wouldn't allow it. I did all the punting and placekicking. If I played defense, I never would have left the field. Also, coach didn't want me to risk injury on defense because my value was offense and we had a chance to win a championship.

As luck would have it, I did get injured before the season even started. We were scheduled to play Lynwood High School in a Friday night scrimmage just before our season opener, and they were taking the scrimmage very seriously. We were in our practice gear, no numbers, no glitz, no glamour, and they came out in full regalia, wearing game uniforms like it was a big-time game.

In a scrimmage, each team gets 10 plays to move the ball. I was a rollout quarterback, and on our second play my fullback fell down, my halfback took out the tight end, and I was heading up the field when a lineman hit me from one side and a cornerback hit me from the other. I went down, and when I got up, I could feel my knee was loose. Something was wrong.

I played eight more plays after that and then I told the coach, "Coach, my knee's killing me. I don't know what it is, but it just doesn't feel right."

The coach didn't hide his disappointment.

"Oh, yeah," he said sarcastically. "My big senior captain let me down."

That night I iced my knee and went to bed. As I always did, I woke up early the next morning, a Saturday. I had a job at a local Texaco station, and I had to be there at 7:00 AM. But when I woke up to go to work, my knee was swollen and sore. Somehow, despite the pain and swelling, I managed to get through work and the weekend. On Monday, I went to an orthopedist and he said I had to have surgery. I had a tear of the medial collateral ligament.

When I told my coach what the doctor said, his response was, "Would you consider wearing a brace and running the shotgun?"

"Coach," I said. "I've got to think about my future."

The next day I had the surgery, and I was on crutches and in a cast for eight weeks. There went my senior year. Amazingly, UCLA didn't rescind my scholarship. They had seen what I could do in my sophomore and junior years, and they still wanted me.

"Coach," I said. "I've got to think about my future."

I got back to health in time for the basketball season, and then I played baseball. I had a pretty good season in baseball, good enough to be named Orange County Player of the Year and Freeway League Player of the Year. I didn't hit for a high average, but I showed some power.

I still wasn't considered a prospect in baseball, however. All my college scholarship offers were for football, UCLA being the only exception. In fact, when I was a sophomore, Tommy Lasorda's daughter, Laura, who was a senior at Sunny Hills, told her father about me. The Dodgers sent a scout to check me out, but I never heard from them, so the scout must have turned thumbs down on me.

In Little League, Pony League, and American Legion, and my first two years in high school, I was a shortstop and pitcher. If I did any catching, it might have been an occasional game in Little League as a trial-and-error thing. In my junior and senior years, when I got bigger and stronger, I was moved to third base and first base, and I still pitched a little.

By then, a Montreal scout named Bob Zuk had started showing up at our games. One day he asked me, "Have you ever thought about catching?"

I told him I might have caught a game or two in Little League, but that was it. Bob said I should consider catching because it would be the quickest way to the major leagues. I was taken aback. Nobody had ever said anything to me about the possibility of playing in the major leagues. Sure, as a kid growing up in the Los Angeles area, I was a big Dodgers fan and I often dreamed of wearing a Dodgers uniform and playing in Dodger Stadium for my favorite team. But in those dreams, I was a shortstop, or a third baseman, even a pitcher. Never a catcher!

Until then, I never seriously thought about playing Major League Baseball. In my mind, my future was football. I had it all planned. I was going to go to UCLA to play quarterback. I would probably redshirt as a freshman, and then I would play four years as a quarterback, replacing Mark Harmon, the actor and son of the great Michigan All-American and Heisman Trophy-winner Tom Harmon, and run the wishbone offense for Coach Pepper Rodgers. But now a Montreal Expos scout had put another thought in my head.

Until then, I never seriously thought about playing Major League Baseball. In my mind, my future was football.

To my surprise, five days after I signed a letter of intent to go to UCLA, I was drafted by the Expos, and in the third round, no less. Zuk told me later that what he saw in me that others obviously didn't see was leadership qualities and a guy who could develop into a catcher. All of a sudden, I had options ...and a dilemma. I thought school was important, and still do, but I had to seriously consider baseball.

I was torn between going to UCLA and signing with the Expos. If I went to college to play football and baseball became secondary, where would that leave me?

For one thing, the Expos were offering a signing bonus of $35,000, plus an additional $7,500 as an incentive to reach the majors, and that seemed like all the money in the world to me. The entire contract was for $42,500 if I made it all the way.

Another factor was that I really didn't know if I had a future in football. I didn't know if I was NFL material. A lot of people who saw me play said I could have made it in the NFL, but I wasn't sure. Another thing that entered into my decision was the torn ligament in my right knee that caused me to lose my senior year in high school. Common sense told me that the chances of injury are much greater in football than they are in baseball. It's a fact that professional football players have a shorter career expectancy than baseball players.

Complicating matters was the fact that I had met and fallen in love with the girl I knew I was going to marry, who now has been my wife for more than 30 years. Sandy Lahm, who also attended Sunny Hills High, was everything I cherished in a mate and everything I wanted in a wife. She was beautiful, sensitive, intelligent, kind, considerate, supportive, and a devout Christian. We had become high school sweethearts and had begun to talk about a life together.

If I went to UCLA, Sandy, who was planning to attend Fullerton College, and I would be able to stay together and plan our future. But if I signed with the Expos, that would mean we'd be separated for as long as I was playing in the minor leagues, or until we could get married. I was being pulled in opposite directions. Sandy and I talked a lot about my decision, and as much as she wanted me to stay close to home, she never put pressure on me to go to UCLA. She encouraged me to do what I thought was best for me.

I was being pulled in opposite directions.

So, with Sandy's support and blessing, I signed with the Expos and got started on my career in baseball.


* * *

My decision, hard as it was, was made. I signed with the Montreal Expos, sadly kissed Sandy good-bye, and off I went to an Expos minicamp in Jamestown, New York, to launch my professional baseball career and learn how to be a catcher.

There were about a dozen catchers in camp and I was easily the worst of the lot as far as fundamentals and technique. The Expos had given me a D-grade arm because I had a football arm. I was a quarterback, and the technique of throwing a football is different from that of throwing a baseball. Also, the technique of throwing a baseball as a catcher is different from that of throwing it as an infielder or a pitcher. As a result, when I threw to second base from the catching position, the ball would sail to the right.

Among the catchers in camp was Michel Dion, who later left baseball and became the goaltender for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and a good one. I was immediately impressed with him as a catcher. He couldn't hit very much, and that's why he left baseball, but he was an excellent receiver. His fundamentals and technique were outstanding. He blocked everything and he moved well. There I was struggling to learn the position and how to move to block balls, and Michel was doing it all so effortlessly. I couldn't help wondering if I would ever be as good as Dion.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Still a Kid at Heart by Gary Carter, Phil Pepe. Copyright © 2008 Gary Carter and Phil Pepe. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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