As a kid growing up in northern New York and southern Quebec in the 1970s and 1980s I was a Montreal Expos fan.  There weren’t a lot of us, but we still loved our team.  Gary Carter was my favorite.  He was “the Kid” and I thought he was amazing behind the plate.

During those years I also loved auto racing.  Formula One driver Ayrton Senna was my hero.  I couldn’t wait for my family’s annual trip to Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal to see the cars race.  Senna was “the Brilliant Brazilian.”  He was incredible behind the wheel of a car…faster than anybody else.  I was probably his biggest fan.

On May 1, 1994 Senna was killed at the San Marino Grand Prix.  The steering on his car broke and he hit the wall.  A piece of the suspension pierced his helmet.  As I stared at the television as the medical crews tried to save him I knew it was over.  My hero just died before my eyes.  A piece of my childhood was over.

It is odd the deep bonds we develop with our favorite athletes.  As kids we know everything about them, we dream of being like them, we hope to follow in their footsteps.  It is hero worship in its purest form.  We are crushed when they are traded, saddened when they retire, and mournful when they pass away.

In 1986, I felt that way about Gary Carter.  I couldn’t believe he was going to the Mets!  Not the Mets!  I was angry!  I was betrayed!  But he had a stellar career there and deserved to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I was proud he went in as an Expo.

Today I’m a little sad…not just because another one of my childhood heroes is gone, but because a great man of only 57 years has left us.  His battle with cancer was probably more heroic than any of his accomplishments on the ball field.

I never met him, personally, but he was still a part of my childhood.  He was a great player.  Thanks for the memories, Gary…and thanks for giving a kid in northern New York a hero to follow!

Shawn Herne is the Chief Curator for the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation, Inc.