April 19, 2002
From the day she slipped on her All-Star father’s royal blue Mets catchers gear at the age of 14, there was no doubt Seminole senior Kimmy Carter was destined to be a catcher. Despite her success on the soccer field and a brief flirtation with the two-sport lifestyle, Carter always seemed headed towards spending her afternoons behind the plate with orange clay beneath her feet.
“There was never a doubt I was going to be a catcher. The first gear I ever put on was my dad’s Mets gear,” recalls Carter. “He is 6’2″ and a lot bigger than I was at 14 years old. It was funny to see me at 5’1″ in his catching gear. Our personalities are so much a like that there was never a question about it. We are both loud and like to be in charge.”
In case you haven’t figured out whom the four-year starter is referring to, we’ll help you out. Carter’s father is 11-time All-Star catcher Gary Carter. The senior Carter spent 19 seasons in the majors, won a World Series in 1986, was awarded three gold gloves, was named Most Valuable Player of the MLB All-Star game on two occasions and finished second in National League MVP voting in 1982. To say Kimmy had a great coach growing up is a little bit of an understatement.
“He would put his gear on me and start firing balls at me without a glove so I would learn to use my protection,” said Kimmy. “That made me aggressive. He would always tell me that I reminded him so much of him and that inspired me. I could never have asked for a better teacher.”
Gary’s lessons in the Carter’s backyard have paid off. Kimmy is about to wrap up a stellar four-year career at Florida State and is the midst of a 228-game consecutive starts streak. Not only do you have to be good to start at FSU from the time you are a freshman until you are a senior but you also have to be healthy. That is another area in which Gary’s advice has helped Kimmy.
“He always taught me the little things about protecting yourself behind the plate like I should always cover my right hand. Never have it exposed so it can get hit by a foul ball or anything,” said Kimmy. “He broke thumbs like that so he wanted to spare me that experience. On collisions at the plate, he warned me to never have my left knee sticking out because if a player slides in cleats up, they would take your knee out. He always gave me little details like that. He went through the pain and warned me about that. He also told me to never let my pitcher get attacked by a batter. Luckily that isn’t a concern in softball.”
GROWING UP IN THE MAJORS
Even though Gary spent his career away from Florida with the Montreal Expos and New York Mets, the Carters were always together and a very close-knit family. The Expos spring training home was in West Palm Beach so that is where the family lived for most of the year but once April rolled around, Kimmy’s life became anything but ordinary.
“The whole family would leave West Palm and go to Canada for the season,” recalls Kimmy. “My sister, brother and I would leave school every year about six weeks early. We would have to finish the semester with tutors. We would box up our stuff and go. We would travel wherever dad was.”
Who better to teach Kimmy what it takes to be a catcher than her All-Star father Gary.
That meant Kimmy’s closest friends growing up were other player’s children. She would spend so much time away from Florida during the season that she would get very close to the kids she was around at the ballpark. With the world of professional sports the way it is, that would sometimes make things pretty hard when it came to long-lasting friendships but there were a lot of positives also.
“My friends were player’s kids and I would get upset when a player was traded because I would lose some of my friends,” said Kimmy. “But on the other hand, I got to see so many different places and it influenced me so much. I think I am so out going because as a kid I met so many new people all the time.”
Because the family moved wherever their dad was, Gary never missed too much of Kimmy’s life. It also helped that by the time his playing career was done, Kimmy was still young enough for her dad to be there for most of the big moments in her life.
“He was there for all the important things,” Kimmy remembers. “He was my coach in high school. He was there for my prom and all the things young girls look forward to. He missed more of the events in my older sisters life than mine but it was great for me because when my dad finished his playing career it coincided with when I really started playing softball.”
Softball was one of the key elements that helped Kimmy adjust to a more average lifestyle when her father’s 19-year career came to an end.
“When he was finished playing, I lived the same type of life as everyone else but now I had softball,” said Kimmy. “I played summer ball during vacation. Went to school all the way to the end and it was really weird at first. That was a huge adjustment for me. He was gone a lot with all the traveling so it was weird to have him home so much. Great but weird.
“I do miss traveling and I do miss watching him play. I wish he were still playing while I was at FSU because I feel we have things in common and that would have been cool. We could have compared our days at the park and I could have talked to him about being a catcher.”
BEING A CATCHER
Catcher is a position like none other on the diamond. Its hard to imagine why anyone would choose to squat for hours on end, put themselves in line for violent collisions and wear all that gear in sometimes sweltering weather at every game and every practice. Taking all your gear off to get into the on-deck circle only to watch the third out and have to put it all back on again. Why would anyone want to put herself through that day after day?
“You do it because you are the quarterback of the team,” said Kimmy. “You have the best view of the field. You look out and you see the entire field and all of your teammates. You are the only one in gear on the whole field and that is an intimidating thing. I’m only 5’3” but in that gear I feel tough and ready to take on anyone.
“Being a catcher also allows you to lead the team. I love the fact that you are in on almost every play of a game. You see the ball on every single pitch. I love to be in the action.”
But what about the collisions? Nobody in her right mind would want to stand in the way of a player charging at you with the sole purpose of knocking you down. Why would you want to protect that plate from someone whose only goal is to flatten you with such force that the ball comes dribbling out of your glove? That has to be the worst part of being a catcher, right?
Kimmy feels like an intimidator in her gear and dares runners to try and dislodge the ball from her glove.
“My favorite play of all time is when its two outs and a runner on second,” says Carter as she begins to smile. “There’s a hit to the outfield and the relay throw is on its way as the runner is about three steps from home plate. I’m sitting there ready and waiting and I don’t care if that player is 6’0″ and 250 pounds, they will not get that ball out of my glove. I wish I’d had more plays like that at FSU because I thrive on them. That is my absolute favorite.”
Another thing Kimmy likes about being a catcher is that it demands you be a leader. Being a catcher has taught her so much about being a leader and prepared her for her role as co-captain this year. But Kimmy hasn’t learned everything about what it means to be a leader from just being behind the plate.
LEARNING AND LEADING
Kimmy has had so many role models when it comes to being a leader. Her dad was co-captain of the World Champion New York Mets in 1986. Head coach Dr. JoAnne Graf has been an example of leadership that Kimmy has been able to learn from every day over the past four years. Then there is former Seminole Dana Bailey. Bailey was a senior softball player at Florida State when Kimmy began playing in 1998.
“When I was a freshman, senior Dana Bailey was always so inspirational to me,” remembered Kimmy. “She was a huge leader. She remained positive no matter what happened to her on the field. Even though she wasn’t a captain, I always looked at her as a team leader. I often look back and tell myself that I should be leading more like Dana did when she was here. She knew who she was as a person and she helped me to learn that there is so much more to life than softball.”
Kimmy has also learned a lot from her teammates who haven’t had the opportunity to play as much as she has over their four years together. Players like Jackie Hirschfeld and Becky Brock have practiced with Kimmy every day for four years yet she hasn’t always had the opportunity to play side-by-side with them on game day.
“The players on the bench work as hard if not harder than those of us who start and my heart goes out to them,” said Kimmy. “I think everyone of those players could hold their own with any one who starts. I have so much respect for them for sticking with their teammates and softball despite limited playing time. They never gave up. They motivate the whole team with their work ethic. They inspire me with their positive attitudes. I don’t know if I could handle it as well as they have.
“I have learned so much from them. They showed me what perseverance means and how to remain positive no matter what you are going through.”
As a team captain, it was vital for Kimmy to learn from her teammates who weren’t starters because it is a part of the game she isn’t really familiar with. Kimmy is in the midst of a streak that has seen her start 228 consecutive games since her freshman season. There hasn’t been a play involving FSU softball for almost four years now that Kimmy hasn’t witnessed from her spot behind the plate or out in right field.
As amazing as it is that Kimmy has earned 228 starts with her play, it is even more amazing considering the stress that playing catcher puts on an athlete’s body. Kimmy is grateful for her health but also to her coach that has shown so much faith in her over the last four years.
“When the streak started as a freshman, I never thought I would have started more than 220 games in a row,” said Kimmy. “I worked hard and coach has told me that she is 100 percent behind me and that she believes in me. It is such an honor that coach Graf has given me that starting nod over and over again and that I have proved to her I belong out there every game. That is a really good feeling.”
Kimmy’s 228 straight starts is amazing especially when most of them have come from behind the plate.
This season, friend and teammate Leslie Malerich broke the all-time career record for wins and junior Brandi Stuart is in the midst of breaking the single-season record for home runs. But as the country witnessed with Cal Ripken Jr, in Baltimore, there is a lot of respect out for a player who finds a way everyday to get out there and play. That is a legacy Kimmy is proud of.
“I am very proud of that streak,” she said. “That is a neat honor and when I saw what Cal Ripken Jr. did with the Orioles, it made me feel pride in my streak here. I am proud of that because I worked really hard to get to the point where I earned a start everyday.”
Although Kimmy may have just 20 more games to add to her consecutive starts record as her career winds down, she isn’t sad. She knows she will miss her teammates, game day and those collisions at the plate but when it is all over, she will leave FSU with only positive memories of her four years.
“Being part of this program, you are treated with the red carpet,” said Kimmy. “I have absolutely enjoyed my time here at Florida State. It has been a challenge and made me the person I am today. I have learned so much. There have been ups and downs but it has helped to build and shape my character and I will always look back fondly on my time here.”