FOND MEMORIES OF THE KID
Sandy Carter, wife of former Expos catcher Gary Carter, was on hand Tuesday for the unveiling of his wax figure at Musée Grévin. The event was part of the Montreal, City of Baseball exhibit that opens Wednesday. Stu Cowan has the details.
Sandy Carter still remembers her first date with the man who would go on to win the hearts of Montreal baseball fans and become the first player inducted into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., wearing an Expos cap.
Sandy was the Homecoming Queen at Sunny Hills High School in Fullerton, Calif., and Gary — who was a year younger — was the jock, playing baseball, football and basketball.
“He was so cute and he had personality-plus … real outgoing and talkative,” Sandy recalled. “It probably didn’t hurt that he was big man on campus. He had never had a girlfriend before, so I was his first.
“Before me, he was all sports, so I guess I just captured his attention,” she added with a laugh.
As for that first date: “He called and he wanted to take me to a movie,” Sandy said, adding that Carter had a part-time job at a gas station at the time and she had one as a waitress. “So guess where we went? To Denny’s. We had no money, we were just in love. We had a greasy patty melt and french fries and a chocolate shake and then we went to see Woodstock. I can’t believe I remember that ... I haven’t had anybody ask me about our first date.”
Four years later, they got married and it lasted 37 years until Carter’s death on Feb. 26, 2012, at age 57 after battling brain cancer.
So one can only imagine the emotions that were going through Sandy on Tuesday afternoon when she got her first look at a life-size wax figure of her late husband that is part of a Montreal, City of Baseball exhibit that opens Wednesday and runs through Sept. 24 at Musée Grévin in the Eaton Centre on Ste-Catherine St. The figure was created by sculptor Stéphane Barrett, with Carter in his righthanded batting stance wearing a baby blue Expos road uniform.
Sandy was joined by their three children — son DJ and daughters Christy and Kimmy — and Carter’s brother, Gordon. DJ, who is 32 and bears a striking resemblance to his dad, had tears in his eyes when he first entered the exhibit, which includes photos, videos and memorabilia. Sandy said she was overwhelmed with emotion when she saw the wax figure.
“I just think it’s fantastic … it’s better than I ever thought, even though I kept seeing a few little pictures along the way,” she said. “They were trying to fine-tune it and it’s wonderful.
“The hair really gets me because that was so his hair. And then his eyes … because he had two different coloured eyes. One was hazel and one was brown. And his teeth … I tell you he had the most perfect teeth without ever having braces. He’s so good looking.”
The Expos selected Carter in the third round of the 1972 Major League Baseball draft when he was still in high school. Only days after his graduation, Carter signed with the team and spent three seasons in the minors, putting his relationship with Sandy on hold since they rarely saw each other. After playing nine games with the Expos in 1974, Carter earned a full-time spot the next year and spent 10 seasons with the team before being traded to the New York Mets, where he would win the World Series in 1986. After short stints with the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, Carter returned to Montreal to play his final season with the Expos in 1992 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
Gary and Sandy were married in February 1975 and spent their honeymoon driving from California to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Expos training camp. Sandy said they really grew up together in Montreal.
“We were so young and I had never lived away from home, so I was homesick,” she said. “He was young and trying to do his best as a rookie on the team. So I just felt like because our first 10 years of marriage and his first 10 years in the major leagues were in Montreal … this city was our beginning. We just shared so much and it went back to growing up together, from being teenagers to newlyweds … I just miss having him and sharing our lives together.”
When asked if there was something about Carter people might be surprised to know, Sandy paused for a moment then noted he had an obsessive-compulsive disorder.
“He kept his locker perfect,” she said. “And sometimes the guys would like to tease him and mess it up … probably (Warren) Cromartie because he was an instigator. I’ll put that on him. Gary would come back and go: ‘Oh, gosh!’ because he really was so neat and tidy.”
Sandy said one of her favourite memories from Carter’s days with the Expos was his first All-Star Game in Milwaukee in 1975, when he was only 21 and so excited about simply being in the clubhouse, returning to the hotel and telling her: “Oh, my gosh! There’s Pete Rose and Johnny Bench!”
Another lasting memory is Carter’s final major-league hit on Sept. 27, 1992, a game-winning double against the Chicago Cubs on an 0-2 count that went over the head of centre-fielder Andre Dawson, a former Expos teammate now also in the Hall of Fame. Carter was then taken out of the game for a pinchrunner and the crowd at Olympic Stadium went wild while bidding him a final adieu.
Sandy said Carter’s body was hurting from top to bottom at that point and his knees — which underwent 10 arthroscopic surgeries, followed by two knee replacements — were in so much pain he could hardly run after so many years as a catcher.
Sandy recalled a conversation she had with Dawson years after Carter’s final hit when she asked the outfielder if he had intentionally let the ball fall in. Dawson responded with an emphatic no.
Sandy recalled Dawson adding: “But let me tell you something. If I would have been a younger guy, I would have caught it. And if Gary would have been younger, he would have hit it out.”
Montreal remains a very special place for the Carter family and the Hall of Fame catcher will always have a special place in the hearts of Expos fans.
Sandy’s message to them: “Thank you for keeping loving Gary and his history and our family. It just means the world to us. It really does.”