At The Kids’ Table with Joe Carter

Joe Carter looks like Gulliver on a Lilliputian’s chair. He is sitting at the kids’ table in the players’ wives and children’s room at Toronto’s Rogers Centre, on a break from shooting a webber naturals commercial on the Blue Jays’ diamond, where he made his famous hit to cinch the Jays’ second consecutive World Series Championship in 1993.

When I join him at the miniature table, I have to concede that it is, in fact, impossible to gracefully sit down on a chair only a foot high in a skirt and patent leather pumps. Yet Carter just laughs and flashes his trademark grin. “I’m just a big kid at a little table,” he says. Which is an apt description, really, of Carter’s legacy in Canadian baseball history. On October 23, 1993, he made the biggest hit of his life, hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to win the World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. It was a defining moment and one most Canadians can recall with exceptional clarity – for example, like every other fifth-grader in North America, I was glued to the TV, clutching a blue J-shaped piece of foam and sporting an oh-so-fabulous early ’90s Blue Jays visor when Carter made the winning hit.

“In all of Canada, it’s huge,” says Carter. “Look at Paul Henderson’s goal, my homerun, Sidney Crosby’s goal in the Olympics. But Canada had already won a championship (an Olympic gold medal) for hockey, so for that to happen in baseball here in Canada – that’s huge.” Yet Carter says his game-winning play doesn’t get the respect it deserves south of the border. “Had I played for the Yankees or the Dodgers and hit that type of homerun, then it surely would have been number one in the States. But because I played in Canada, it doesn’t get the due diligence that it should. That really upsets me, not from a personal standpoint but from a country standpoint. It shouldn’t be dictated by where you play.”

Nevertheless, he’s Canada’s biggest baseball hero and we’re happy to call him our own. “Canada is a second home to me,” he says. “The seven years I played here were seven of the best years I’ve ever had, without a doubt.”

He was named to five all-star teams, hit 396 home runs over his career and was the first player to record 100 RBI for three different teams in three consecutive seasons. Yet when I ask him about how he keeps it all balanced, he only wants to tell me about his backyard.

“We’re talking about our peonies, all the roses, the azaleas starting to come out,” he says, his eyes lighting up. He even replaced three huge river birches in his backyard in order to plant more flowers and perennials. “It took me a whole summer to do that and I was just exhausted every single day, but the next year to see all that come to fruition and grow up – I sit on my porch and just look at the flowers, all different types of colours and everything. It’s beautiful out there – I love doing that. Sounds like an interesting baseball player, huh?” he laughs. Along with a new green thumb, Carter says retirement also gave him a new perspective on fitness. “When I retired it was like, I can just sit back and relax. I don’t have to go work out,” he says. However, he soon realized that working out was a key element in his life. So he now stays in shape by golfing and with a fitness regime that includes 30 to 45 minutes on the elliptical, speed bike work, stretching and a go at the step machine (that he hates). “I’ve had it since 1995 and it probably only has about 10 miles on it,” Carter laughs. “I hate it … that thing is tough.”

Carter has found balance in his post-retirement career as well. He and his wife, an interior designer, live in Leawood, Kansas, where they run a development company. “That’s what she enjoys doing, so it wasn’t always about my life, because I basically had mine when I was playing baseball,” he says. “So now it’s time for her to do things that she likes to do, so whatever she wants, she can do.”

Together, they built one of the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified homes in Kansas City, Missouri. Carter says he was prompted to seek LEED certification because of the “concerns here on Earth,” he says. “The things that are happening, the resources that are dwindling, we are trying to find more avenues to save the planet. So if you use things that are natural, that are going to help the environment, it will also help with the utility bills.”

Carter certainly understands that value, having come from a family of 11 children. The Oklahoma native was born after five sisters and perhaps has them to thank for his kindness and humility, best exemplified when meeting fans. Even though Carter was in the big leagues himself, he understands the magnitude of meeting sports heroes – he is currently featured in a contest with webber naturals in which a lucky fan will watch a Blue Jays game in a luxury box with him. He was star struck himself when his hitting coach took him to meet a mystery guest at midnight in the ’80s.

“He opens the door, the guy’s in his pyjamas – it’s Willie Mays,” he says. “So we stayed until 5 o’clock in the morning talking about baseball and I’m sitting there going, ‘that’s Willie Mays!’” Twenty-five years and a dream sports career later, Carter makes time for fans because he recalls exactly how he felt talking with Mays. “I had been in the big leagues for a couple of years but a chance at midnight to go to Willie Mays’ room? I was just like, ‘oh, wow – this is awesome!’” he says. “I was in awe the whole time.” With an attitude like that, it’s no wonder why Carter, a baseball giant, feels right at home at the kids’ table.