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November 17. 2012 11:24PM

Kevin Gray's On Baseball: In town for Baseball Dinner, Carpenter says he'll keep pitching


Four-year-old Nicholas Reardon of Milford, is greeted by two-time World Series champion pitcher Chris Carpenter during the Granite State Baseball Dinner at the Radisson in Manchester on Saturday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

MANCHESTER -- Chris Carpenter finished the 2012 season with another postseason victory, one fewer rib and a refreshing outlook on his future.

The Cardinals ace spent almost the entire season on a comeback mission from nerve-related shoulder weakness, which included the removal of a top rib in July. He returned earlier than expected and eventually beat the Nationals in the playoffs.

Today, at 37 years old, there's plenty of life in that lightning-bolt right arm. The Trinity High of Manchester graduate might continue pitching until someone rips the jersey off his body.

"If I can be healthy, I want to keep pitching until I can't pitch," Carpenter said at the annual Granite State Baseball Dinner, held at the downtown Radisson on Saturday night. "My kids love it. My son was just telling me on the flight about how much fun it is being able to go into the clubhouse and be part of everything. It's important to him."

Carpenter said he wouldn't hesitate pitching into his 40s. He's thrown more than 2,300 career innings, including the postseason, and fashioned a 144-94 career record through 15 seasons.

"I'm going to do whatever I can to pitch as long as I can," he said, "but I won't be the guy out there when it just doesn't work. I can promise you that."

The dinner, hosted by the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, was another smashing success. Organizers upped the ante this year by adding Hall of Famer Wade Boggs and former home run champion Cecil Fielder, among others. Boggs, who flew from Tampa on Saturday afternoon, was flat-out excited to meet up with former teammates Rich Gedman, Bob Stanley and share stories with fans.

"It feels like Old Home Week," Boggs said. "Look at all these guys here."

Boggs made his debut for the Red Sox in 1982 at age 24. He always hit, batting .349 and .361 in his first two seasons for Boston. Once considered a defensive liability in the minors, Boggs became a solid corner man for Boston and a Gold Glove winner with the Yankees in 1994 and '95.

"They said I couldn't run. Can't field. No power. You know what? I was doing something I loved and kept working at it. Now I'm in the Hall of Fame," Boggs said. "I just kept swinging the ax and going about my business. I was getting paid for something I loved - not a lot - and I never dreamed of doing anything else."

Boggs arrived at the dinner in good hands. David McCarthy, former executive major of the New Hampshire State Police, spent the day traveling with Boggs. McCarthy is also executive director of the Ted Williams Museum and often a chaperon for the stars.

"Of all the big names and Hall of Famers I've worked with over the years, Wade Boggs is one of the best guys," McCarthy said. "When I told him how important this baseball dinner was to New Hampshire, he made sure we didn't miss it."

Trinity High alumnus Mike LaValliere, a former Gold Glove catcher with the Pirates, returned to the dinner and sat next to Boggs during the two-hour autograph session. The Pirates haven't had a winning season since "Spanky" was behind the dish in 1992.

Rays outfielder Sam Fuld of Durham began the day at USA Training Center in Newington, signing autographs and talking with young players about life in the big leagues. Fuld is eligible for "Super 2" salary arbitration this winter and should double his salary to about $1 million, thanks to baseball's new labor contract.

Pirates lefty Jeff Locke, a Kennett High of Conway product, beat the Braves for his first big-league win on Oct. 1. The southpaw has conquered the minors and feels ready for a full-time role in the Pirates.

"You can spend an entire career waiting for the opportunity I have right now. I'm ready. I'm going to spring training with the plan to become part of that starting rotation and help lead the Pirates to the playoffs," said Locke, who turns 25 on Tuesday.

Locke always manages to find a seat near Carpenter at the dinner.

"I've been seeing Chris at this dinner since I was 8 years old. I always tell people he's been my role model. We come from the same type of woods," Locke said.

Cubs minor leaguer Brad Zapenas, a Nashua North graduate, has already had a productive off-season while returning from shoulder surgery. In addition, he'll earn a finance degree from Boston College next month.

"Going back to college this fall was a nice experience, but it really made me miss playing the game," said Zapenas, who hopes to play for the Advanced-A Daytona Cubs.

Yankees minor leaguers Jordan Cote from Winnisquam Regional of Tilton and Joey Maher of Bedford High were among the rising stars on the guest list.

Last year's event raised a combined $155,680 for Children's Hospital at Dartmouth, the Fisher Cats Foundation and the Ted Williams Museum. Saturday night's event was expected to push charitable earnings to about $1 million through the past eight years.

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Staff writer Kevin Gray covers pro baseball for the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. His email address is kgray@unionleader.com. Twitter: @graymatter11.


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