I. 1981 All-Star Game: Baseball maps the past
I watched the 1981 All-Star game in a motel room in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire. I was nine and my family was down there on vacation. Earlier in the evening, at dinner at a restaurant down the street, I’d tried shellfish for the first time. Baseball maps the past because you can look it up: August 9, 1981 was the day I determined that a plate of clams was the greatest food the planet had ever known.
I remember it was dark in our room – my 18-month old brother was sleeping. The glow of the television, tuned in to the All-Star Game in Cleveland, was the only light. I remember feeling so proud and so sick. Gary Carter was doing a number on the American League All-Star pitchers; the clams were doing a number on my insides. The Kid hit two home runs and was named the game’s M.V.P. This was the first time in my life that I distinctly felt proud to be from Montreal. I think being away from my own living room helped; it was easier to imagine the millions of people in other cities watching Carter’s exploits, representing my home town. We were on the map.
Later, I threw up. And then I threw up some more. And then more again. So much it even came out my nose. You can look it up.
II. Candlestick Park, May 1984: The patience of The Kid
In 1984 I was twelve and we had moved to the Bay Area. I missed Montreal. My dad took me to see the Expos play the Giants at Candlestick Park. We were stopped at the turnstiles because we had a six-pack of 7Up with us. We drank two cans of 7Up each, threw the rest out, and entered the stadium.
The Expos came out in their road baby blues and it felt weird to see that in person. I wanted them to take me home with them.
After the game, I lined up above the visiting dugout with a big crowd of autograph-seekers. It took twenty minutes for me to reach the front of the throng. It was a frenzy of extended arms with pens, baseball cards, and baseball caps. The only Expo left signing by that time was Gary Carter. Sometimes clichés are true: I was twelve years old, I was face-to-face with my sports hero, and The Kid was larger than life.
III. The 1992 season: Restoration
After being traded to the Mets after the 1984 season, and after a year with the Giants and one with the Dodgers, the Kid came back to Montreal to play his last season of baseball with the Expos. The Kid’s final at-bat, the double that sailed inches over former teammate Andre Dawson’s outstretched glove, is well-documented and well-remembered. It was one of the greatest moments in Expos history. I tend to think more of that whole season as a wonderful place in time. Carter’s return to Montreal was a restoration of what was supposed to be. I had experienced my own little restoration when we moved back to Montreal five years prior. I know what it’s like to go home again.
That Gary Carter retired an Expo is of no small significance. I’m 40; I remember the ‘80s. My little brother, the baby who slept through the 1981 All-Star Game in a darkened motel room, got some Gary Carter of his own when he was twelve. By returning to Montreal, The Kid bridged the teams of the early ‘80s for a younger generation. I remember the congratulatory sign my brother made the following year when we went to see Carter get his number retired at Olympic Stadium. He spelled it “CONGRADULATIONS.” Now you can look it up.
So long, The Kid.