My buddy Kevin wanted to unload his stuff, and gave a litany of reasons as to why- he told me he was making space in his new place, that his wife didn’t want it around, that his girls had no interest. As good friends do, I made sure he really didn’t want the stuff anymore, then promised him I’d give it all a good home.
There’s a problem, though. I’ve had his stuff almost a year now, and I wish he had never given it to me. It took me a while to realize, but part of Kev’s coping mechanism for the loss of the Expos is to pretend like they were never here.
It was a hot and sunny weekday afternoon in June, 2003. The team was coming home from the road trip to end all road trips: 22 games in 25 days, 22,500 km’s of insanity stretching from Montreal to Miami, to San Juan (home games, sorta), then across the continent to Seattle and Oakland, and finally, Pittsburgh.
I viewed the month-long road trip as a test of resolve. As the Expos left to play the Marlins, they were in the Wild Card spot at 31-18, and just two games back of the Braves for the NL East. Surely the third best team in baseball could handle three and a half weeks away from the nightlife of Montreal. Besides, the Jazz festival hadn’t even started yet. They weren’t missing a thing.
If the team could come home from the road trip within a sniff of where they were, I’d still be allowed to dream about what could be. The next 25 days were spent near my radio (very few games were available on television), listening to the highs and lows of a 9-14 road trip. They were coming home 2.5 games out of the Wild Card. I was elated.
One of the highs was hearing on an afternoon call-in show that a group of fans had organized a welcome home rally for when the Expos returned. One of the fans, a guy named Kevin, was live in studio talking up the rally. It was comforting to be reminded that I wasn’t alone. There were other fans that cared as much as I did.
I was in traffic on a highway somewhere in the unknowns of the South Shore en route to the Expos rally at the St. Hubert Airport. The Expos had played an early afternoon game in Pittsburgh (and won!) and were due to land in Montreal later that evening. It was six o’clock and the road was bumper to bumper. I had visions of Woodstock – people getting out of their cars in the middle of the road and walking, The Chambers Brothers’ ‘Time Has Come Today’ blasting from a radio, Expos fans by the thousands deciding to come out of a 9-year hibernation and welcome back Les Boys. Ah, how the mind can wander in simple rush-hour traffic. Then the car behind me started honking and flashing his hi-beams at me.
Back then I drove a 1997 Accord. All white, adornedwith Expos hats in the back window, and the all-important ‘Keep Baseball in Montreal’ bumper sticker. The car pulls ahead of me, and has the same Expos hat set up in his rear window. The dude drivingrolled down his window and said “see you at the rally”.
It was Kevin. I followed him for the next 10 minutes or so, and when we got there, he handed me a beer and asked me if I wanted to play catch.
Within a half hour the place was jammed with fans. A couple of hundred people tailgated, sang songs, and waited for the plane to arrive. When it did, many players seemed overwhelmed by the greeting. It was a very happy day for Expos fans.
Kevin and I became good friends, and attended many games together in ’03 and ’04. We’ve hung out since the team left, even gone on a few road trips to the Rogers Centre. Unfortunately we haven’t hung out as much as we did when the Expos were around, so last week we made plans to watch the Indians play the Jays. I was excited to catch up and talk about the good old days.
Problem was, Kevin doesn’t like to talk about the good old days anymore, he’d prefer to leave it in the past. “Too depressing,” he said last week while we watched the Jays thump the Indians at a sports bar where the only other people paying attention to the game were a group of Korean students cheering on Shin-Soo Choo.
He’s a Blue Jays fan now. They’re on his television set more than the Expos ever were, and he gets just as animated talking about Rajai Davis as he did back in the day with Endy Chavez. For Kevin it’s the Jays, for my buddy Sam it’s the Orioles, for Neil it’s the Rays, and for way too many in Montreal it’s the Red Sox. It’s bullshit. If anyone says that they experience the same highs or lows following baseball since 2004, they’re lying. It’s why I answer ‘Expos’ when someone asks, “Who’s your favourite team?”
Last week I watched the news of the NHL’s return to Winnipeg and saw grown men crying in the streets. I can’t imagine how those fans must feel right now. My coping mechanism is to picture a day when a team comes back. I can’t picture doing anything else.
Kevin’s coping mechanism is to follow the Jays – check the box score in the paper, keep up with the stats, and box up all his Expos stuff and bequeath it to his friends. If I ever go to Puerto Rico in the fall, I’ll be sure to wear the cardigan. And if Kevin doesn’t organize a welcome home rally for me, I’ll be disappointed.