More than 36 years have passed since Daniel Plamondon met an energetic, young Californian named Gary Carter, but his memories of "The Kid" are still fresh.
A former bat boy and batting practice pitcher with the Montreal Expos, Plamondon was a big-league "rookie" in the same year as the future Hall of Famer. And starting in 1975, the-then wide-eyed 17-year-old formed a brotherly bond with Carter who was four years older than him.
Carter, who spent 12 of his 19 major league seasons in Montreal, would assist Plamondon with his homework, while the francophone teen would help Carter hone his French. The duo would grow up together in the clubhouses at Jarry Park and Olympic Stadium, and few would come to know Carter as well as Plamondon.
In fact, it was Plamondon whom Carter entrusted to hold his first daughter prior to a game when she was a baby.
"I remember it was a father and son day and Gary just had his first daughter, Christy, and Gary and Sandy [Carter's wife] had to go take some photos together, so I held her," recalled Plamondon. "I'm holding the baby then all of a sudden doesn't she leak all over me? Gary has two sets of pants, so he can afford to have something like this happen, I only had one pair. This was the pre-game and I'm thinking give me a break. We had white pants. He and his wife got a chuckle out of that."
That incident aside, Plamondon loved Carter because the longtime Expo, who belted 324 career homers, treated him like a teammate. Plamondon continues to hold a special place in his heart for Carter and has been following his friend's battle with brain cancer through Carter's daughter's blog (http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/TheKid8).
"Gary's competitiveness was unrivaled," said Plamondon. "That's why the first time I heard about him being sick, I said, 'Gary is going to fight it.'"
Plamondon first witnessed the fight in Carter when the future Cooperstowner learned to become a catcher in the mid-to-late '70s. Though it's hard to fathom now, Carter was employed primarily as an outfielder by the Expos for his first two big-league campaigns.
"Right through the late '70s, Gary was still learning on the job to be a catcher," said Plamondon. "Gary was always working, always trying to better himself."
But playing baseball didn't appear to be work to Carter. Plamondon says Carter loved to be on the field more than any player he has ever been around.
"When you took Gary out for a rest and sat him on the bench, he was irritable," recalled Plamondon. "Nobody could be around him. He was on the bench holding his bats ready to go in and pinch-hit."
In his five seasons with the Expos from 1975 to 1979, Plamondon also threw batting practice. In one memorable session in 1976, the youngster plunked veteran Jose Morales, the club's best pinch-hitter, twice in the ribs with pitches. That inspired Expos infielder Pepe Frias to nickname Plamondon "Wild Bird."
"So Carter says to me the next day, 'Hey Wild Bird, can you come out and throw baseballs at me?'" recounted Plamondon with a chuckle.
Plamondon was also impressed by how Carter immersed himself in the city of Montreal.
"I think Gary was the only Expos player that I would see take a French newspaper and read it," he said. "Gary took the time to learn the language. Gary loved the people in Montreal and the people loved him."
Carter, who still operates a foundation in his name that supports programs for children, has always had a charitable side. One of Plamondon's most poignant memories of his tenure with the Expos was the relationship Carter forged with a young boy dying of leukemia.
In 1977, that child came to Olympic Stadium to visit Carter three times. Sadly, the third time the boy was on a stretcher and couldn't be brought down to the field. Plamondon said the stadium's security team hooked Carter up with a walkie-talkie so he could communicate with his dying fan.
"Just Dick Williams and myself were on the bench and Gary was talking loud into the walkie-talkie and he blurts out, 'I'm going to hit you a home run tonight,'" recalled Plamondon. "No word of a lie, Dick Williams and I turned and looked at each other and we were thinking, oh geez, Gary put his foot in his mouth again. Then comes the game, and doesn't Gary hit a home run? It was just like Babe Ruth promising the home run. Not long after that, the little boy apparently passed away."
Plamondon, now 53 and working as a researcher in the workplace safety field in Montreal, says Carter is still beloved in the city.
"When you think about the Expos, you think about Gary Carter. It's as simple as that. He's in the same rank as Maurice Richard with the Canadiens," he said.
Plamondon hasn't spoken with Carter since 1996 when the Expos great returned to Olympic Stadium as a TV broadcaster with the Florida Marlins.
Plamondon, who owns the world's largest collection of Expos game-used memorabilia, purchased the last base that Carter touched after his final hit, a double on Sept. 27, 1992 against the Chicago Cubs. Coincidentally, the ball went over the head of Carter's longtime Expos teammate Andre Dawson. Dawson happened to be playing for the Marlins in 1996.
"I got Gary to sign the base and he starts talking and telling me all about his kids," said Plamondon. "I also got Andre to sign it because the ball was hit over his head. Gary, Andre and I were all there and we were like old ladies chatting about how it was here with the Expos."
Though he hasn't spoken with "The Kid" for more than 15 years, Plamondon thinks of his friend often. With the recent revelation that new tumours have been found on Carter's brain and that all major treatments have reportedly been stopped, a heavy-hearted Plamondon is hoping for a miracle.
"Gary will always be in my thoughts," said Plamondon. "He's part of the Montreal family. He'll never be forgotten."
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