I vividly remember the day that changed my life forever as a Met fan, that Monday night in December of 1984.
At that time, my best friends and I used to go watch Monday Night Football together as a group in a bar in Bayonne. It was a fun tradition that I sorely miss.
I was working for the Morristown Daily Record and I was in the office when the news came over the AP wire that the Mets had acquired Gary Carter in a trade with the Montreal Expos.
I couldn't wait to get to Bayonne and share the news with my good friend and fellow diehard Met fan, Glenn Gardner.
So I drove like a madman from Parsippany to Bayonne. I approached Glenn and asked him a question.
"What would be the one thing you'd want as a Met fan right now? If there was one player you'd want on the Mets, who would it be?"
He responded, "Gary Carter."
I retorted, "Well, we got Gary Carter."
The amazing news was instantly celebrated. We hugged, high-fived, jumped up and down a few times, in disbelief that we got the best catcher in baseball for four mediocre players. I mean, we would miss Hubie Brooks, but he wasn't going to give us a World Series. Gary Carter was going to.
On Opening Day, 1985, my friends and I all went to Shea Stadium as part of another tradition. It was a brutally frigid day, way below the freezing point. But we didn't want to leave the game because we felt something magical would happen.
Sure enough, in the only way he knew, Carter hit a dramatic 10th inning homer off former Met Neil Allen to win the game against the Cardinals. It set Shea Stadium into a place of pandemonium.
Ralph Kiner had Carter on Kiner's Korner and repeatedly called Carter in typical malaprop fashion, "Gary Cooper."
"Well, I guess you can call me the Pride of the Mets," Carter told Kiner.
He was a Met. First game in the uniform and he was already a Met.
He might have gotten a bad rap as being someone who liked to be in front of a camera. Some called him "Camera Carter." Others called him "The Kid."
But he provided a lot of great memories for me as a Met fan.
I'll remember the two homers he hit against the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 1986 World Series, helping the Mets draw even at 2-2. I'll remember the game-winning single he had against Charlie Kerfeld in the 10th inning of Game 5 of the NLCS, a game that I attended and felt Shea Stadium rock after that hit.
I'll remember the three homers he hit in a game against the Padres. I'll remember the single he had in Game 6 of the World Series that started that miraculous rally that culminated with Mookie hitting the little dribbler up the first base line.
I'll remember the clutch hit he got in the 1988 NLCS against the unbeatable Orel Hershiser that enabled the Mets to win Game 1 of that series. Unfortunately, we lost that series.
And I'll remember the times I got to meet him.
The first came in 1988, when I was in a Chicago bar, in town to see some college friends and to see the Mets play the Cubs. Sure enough, who walks into the bar but Darryl Strawberry, Jesse Orosco, Doug Sisk and Carter.
I walked up to them like a star-struck Met fan and said, ``Hi Darryl, Hi Jesse, Hi Doug, Hi Mr. Carter."
He stopped, "Did you call me Mr. Carter because of my age?"
"Nope, it was out of respect," I said.
The next time I saw him was Opening Day in Atlanta in 1991, where I attended the Braves' opener against the Dodgers with famed sports personality Ed Lucas.
Ed and I got caught in a torrential rainstorm and were soaked to the bone. I wanted to go back to the hotel, but Eddie made sure that we went to the Dodgers' clubhouse to see Strawberry, Bobby Ojeda and Carter.
Lucas had to see Carter, who signed every piece of memorabilia that Lucas had on him. He was a joy.
The next time I saw Carter was only a few years ago, when he was the manager of the Long Island Ducks and I was the official scorer for the Newark Bears.
I went into the Ducks' clubhouse and sitting behind the desk by himself was one of my all-time favorite Mets. I introduced myself as the official scorer and was there to get the game lineup.
"Well, you do a good job as the scorer," Carter told me. "You're fair on every call and you don't play favorites and you're not a homer."
Imagine that. Carter was paying me a compliment.
There was a controversial call during that game. The next day, I saw Carter again and he said, "Well, Jimmy, you might have missed that one."
"No, I didn't, Gary," I said stoically, sticking to my guns.
"Well, at least you're honest," he said. "I like that."
We all knew this day would come, once Carter was diagnosed with brain cancer a few months ago. It's a disease that doesn't lose, as it also took the lives of great Met reliever Tug McGraw and great Yankee slugger and announcer Bobby Murcer over the years.
So it's not a shock that we lost Gary Carter today at the age of 57. But it doesn't lessen the sting of the loss, the pain, the hurt. He should have lived for a long time, lived to hear the thunderous applause he would receive at Met games. It hurts that he's gone.
But he will forever be a part of my deepest memories and in my heart, because he was the final piece to the puzzle that made that 1986 dream season a reality.
God bless Gary Carter and thanks for the memories, Kid!!!