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Carter: A Name, Not A Number

Gary Carter Stadium in Port St. Lucie…has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Won’t happen, though, because Gary Carter was a catcher and isn’t a corporation. Some company few Mets fans had ever heard of before 2010 or have any idea what exactly it does owns the rights to the name of the Mets’ primary Spring Training facility, and the Mets aren’t about to revoke those rights. Somebody wants to pay the Mets, the Mets are in no position to scale high moral ground and return the money.

So how about the Gary Carter New York Mets Spring Training and Minor League Complex? It’s a little bulky, but it covers all the bases. Since there’s more to the Mets’ operation in St. Lucie than just the field where the Mets sell naming rights and play exhibition games — and since the umbrella operation doesn’t seem to have an official name — there’s an opportunity there. There’s a chance to call it something. Something appropriate.

The Gary Carter Complex…when it’s mentioned as a matter of course on SNY or WFAN, will it sound like something for which they advise you to seek counsel if you’re prone to taking frequent curtain calls? Oh hell, that’s all right. Curtain calls imply you just did something worth pumping your fist and waving your helmet over.

Carter certainly did his share of that on our behalf from 1985 to 1989.

On the other side of Florida, in St. Petersburg, Mets minor leaguers once trained at the Payson Complex, named for the lady who owned the team. So there’s precedent here. Give Mets minor leaguers the privilege of learning their craft at the Carter Complex, named for the man who owned the town.

Two towns, actually. There was New York, circa 1986, and there was Port St. Lucie in 2006. Gary Carter managed the St. Lucie Mets to the Florida State League championship six years ago. That was a one-season deal (on the heels of winning a division title at the helm of the 2005 Gulf Coast Mets), as Carter followed his managerial muse elsewhere, but the Kid has been an undeniable fixture in the Treasure Coast region: as a longtime citizen of Palm Beach Gardens; as a benefactor of Palm Beach County schools through the Gary Carter Foundation [1]; and as baseball coach at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Honoring Gary Carter where he lives (approximately 40 miles north of his home) would recognize his contributions to his community and give the Carter family a chance to relish the recognition on a going basis.

Aside from the geography, there is the irresistible symbolism of Gary Carter’s name gracing the site where New York Mets baseball experiences its rebirth every spring. Gary Carter arriving in Mets camp in the spring of 1985 represented hope and anticipation as perhaps no new Met before him had. Gary Carter was there to lead us toward the promised land. The journey began that first Carter spring. It reached its completion just two autumns later.

He was a helluva hitter and catcher for all seasons, but when I think of spring and the Mets, I think of Gary Carter and 1985.

The Carter Complex is my simple response, I suppose, to the recurring question about what to do, if anything, with No. 8. You can fill in all the possible answers yourself, whether you’re in favor of immediately retiring it because of Gary Carter’s battle to keep going [2], respectful but reticent to make that grandest of historical gestures given the franchise’s ideal numerical hierarchy, or of the belief that the best way to pay proper homage to the uniform number of a Mets Hall of Famer [3] is to circulate it among his worthiest successors.

I don’t feel like getting into an argument about it, not even with myself. I see all the angles on this, I think, and given the right spin, I can agree with any of them. It’s a sports fan tic to require a final score on every issue. That, I believe, is why we are drawn to Hall of Fame evaluations, “all-time” rankings and why a number should or shouldn’t be retired. And as people who stand by while the physical condition of an athlete who contributed so mightily to our happiness grows dire, we are overtaken by a desire to do something about it…to push another run across the plate, as it were. Again, the sports fan instinct at work.

Gary Carter’s number on the left field wall at Citi Field wouldn’t diminish the inherent honor attached to placing it there, but it also isn’t the first number I would have thought to affix there had we not been compelled to contemplate Gary Carter right now. That’s why retiring No. 8 doesn’t seem at all wrong, yet neither does it seem perfectly right. To my Met mind, the Gary Carter New York Mets Spring Training and Minor League Complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla., seems unquestionably fitting in terms of tribute and taste.

So do it, Mets. Do it now. Do it so Gary Carter’s name is on the door when the Mets return for their annual rebirth in a few weeks. There’s no earthly reason to wait.