Long ago and not far away, Gary Carter won over fans when he hit a game-winning home run in his Mets debut at Shea Stadium. The venue has changed since 1985, but not the feeling for the Hall of Fame catcher, who always approached baseball with the optimism of Opening Day.
Carter, who died of brain cancer at 57 in February, was remembered in a pregame ceremony with a video montage of his career at Citi Field Thursday. He also was essentially lionized as the Mets unveiled a unique emblem on the wall in left-center, in the form of home plate, with the wording KID 8. The players will wear the logo on their uniforms this season.
Players and coaches also wore Carter's No. 8 jersey during batting practice, and Carter's No. 8 jersey hung in the Mets' dugout during the game.
Carter's family, which included his wife, Sandy, and daughters Kimmy and Christy and son D.J., participated in the first-pitch ceremony. They threw to Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling, Darryl Strawberry and Mookie Wilson. The family requested privacy.
Some chants of "Ga-ry, Ga-ry'' broke a moment of silence. For some, it might have rekindled that April day 27 years ago when Carter homered off Neil Allen in the 10th inning to beat St. Louis. It was an early indication of Carter's impact as the Mets won it all the next season.
"What a way for him to break in,'' Dwight Gooden, who started that game, said this week. "He got a big ovation and was smiling that smile that we became so accustomed to seeing.''
Wally Backman remembered, "When that happened in the first game, it gave us all that much more of what to expect for the rest of the year.''
Strawberry said Thursday, "Right there you knew we had just turned the corner. We were on our way to becoming a team that was going to win a championship because of Carter's presence in the lineup.''
Wilson said Carter approached every game like the opener. "For most of us, Opening Day's always been an exciting time,'' he said. "Everyone is optimistic about the potential of the team . . . With Gary, what you saw Opening Day was what you saw in mid- June, July, August and September.''
Wilson and Strawberry stayed in close contact with Carter's family as his condition worsened. Strawberry grew emotional when asked what he learned about his association with Carter. "In all trueness and fairness, I really wish I could have lived like him,'' he said. "I really do. I really wish that I could live my life like him, as a player and as a person. I wished I would have known what he knew. Because what he knew was real.''