Darryl Strawberry needed all of one game to know what new teammate Gary Carter meant to the New York Mets.
"Right there you just knew inside your gut as a player that sits on that bench, you knew we had just turned the corner," Strawberry said Thursday before a pregame ceremony at Citi Field honouring Carter. "We were on our way to becoming the team that was going to win the championship because of the Carter presence in the lineup."
The Mets unveiled a memorial logo in honour of the ever-smiling Hall of Fame catcher who died in February from a brain tumour. Opening day was a fitting occasion to pay tribute to the player many considered the final piece to a ballclub that would win the 1986 World Series.
Carter hit a game-winning home run on opening day 1985, his first year in New York. If there were any doubts about the player who spent his first 11 years on the Montreal Expos, they were dispelled right there.
"The first couple of days with the "Kid" was probably the most nervous I've been because a lot of us as ballplayers did not know who Gary was," teammate Mookie Wilson said. "We played against him and, to be honest with you, we didn't like him. And that's mainly because of the attitude he portrayed as being that guy who was always smiling, always happy. You go up there to hit, he's always talking to you. You're just trying to get your job done."
They learned quickly that Carter would get the job done, despite his sunny disposition on a ballclub known for infighting and hard partying ways.
"He really was that happy among a bunch of animals," Strawberry said.
Known as "Kid" for his big grin and unbridled zeal for the game, the 11-time all-star and three-time Gold Gove winner wears an Expos cap on his plaque in Cooperstown but he will always claim a special place in the hearts of Mets fans.
"A tremendous leader, tremendous work ethic," said Ryan Fennelly, 37, of Long Island. "He was really a leader for all the younger players on the team, the Strawberrys, the Goodens you know the substance and control in the clubhouse."
'It's an honour to wear his number today.' — Mets manager Terry Collins on wearing jersey sporting Gary Carter's name
The current Mets and coaching staff all wore blue practice jerseys with Carter's name and number on the back during batting practice.
"Nice tribute," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
Added Mets manager Terry Collins: "It's an honour to wear his number today."
Carter's wife, Sandy Carter, and their three children stood at the wall in left-centre and pulled down a blue drape to reveal a black symbol shaped like home plate with "Kid" above an "8" — Gary's nickname and number for nearly his entire 19-year career.
The players wore a similar patch on their right sleeve.
Members of his family were then escorted by former teammate and current Mets third base coach Tim Teufel to a spot in front of the mound where they watched a video tribute on the scoreboard.
Sandy and the three children, D.J., Christy and Kimmy, threw out ceremonial first pitches to Gary's teammates on that championship club, Darryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, Ron Darling and Mookie Wilson.
The Expos traded Carter to the Mets after the 1984 season for Hubie Brooks, Mike Fitzgerald, Herm Winningham and Floyd Youmans. And Carter was a stabilizing force on a brash, young team that captivated New York. They won 98 games in '85, finishing second. The next year they won 108 and the World Series title in dramatic fashion.
His two-out single in the bottom of the 10th during Game 6 of the Series kicked off a stunning rally against the Boston Red Sox. Then in Game 7, Carter drove in the tying run in the sixth inning, and the Mets went on to win their most recent championship.