Sometimes it’s the little things that keep us together/ That’s’ why I’m an Expo forever
I’ve lost two jobs because of baseball. The first time was in 1999. I was telemarketing (a thankless job, my Expos cap is doffed to whoever toils on the phones) – my shift conflicted with witnessing Tony Gwynn’s 3000th hit. The other time was last summer, when I had a gig in logistics for a major Montreal festival that will remain unnamed. On the second to last day of the fest, I followed my heart, shirked my duties, and jumped on a bus to Cooperstown for Andre Dawson’s induction into the Hall of Fame.
The bus had been chartered by the Team 990, the former flagship radio station for the Expos. Once I had received the invite to join, I knew I couldn’t pass it up. A few days before, while the festival was in full swing, I decided to mention it to my supervisor. Let’s just say nobody was amused.
I pulled a 24-hour shift on the Saturday so that my conscience could allow me to justify taking off work. At 4am, I left the office, turned my cell phone off, and headed to a strip mall in the suburbs to rendezvous with the bus.
When I got to the mall I was surprised as to how many people I recognized from the Stadium. One of the more recognizable faces from the past was Dawson’s teammate Warren Cromartie, who was joining us on the bus, and was a guest of the Hawk at the ceremony.
A few days earlier, a local artist named AnnakinSlayd had released an Expos tribute song that has since become the anthem for all Expos fans, and for lovers of baseball in general. In just under 4 minutes, Slayd tells the story of his childhood bond with his team and his family. The song is emotional, uplifting, and manages to inspire without being corny.
Slayd was on the bus as well. I was happy to meet someone who had expressed the Montreal baseball fan’s sentiments with such passion and eloquence. I’ve since found out that the song didn’t only speak to the fans, John Wetteland admitted to tearing up the first time he saw it, while Pedro Martinez has it saved on his cell phone. When we got on the bus, his song was the first thing we heard blaring through the speakers.
The bus was taking forever, inching along down through the Adirondacks. So much so that I wondered if we were going to get to the ceremony in time. I hadn’t slept more than a couple of hours a night that week, but I was wired. Our driver, Serge, was 80 years old and keeping us rolling at a slow 70km/h. He kept driving erratically, swerving and hitting trees on the side of the road. Every 45 minutes he’d pull over at a rest stop and have a cigarette. Serge looked like he was on his last legs that day. We all prayed that if he was going to go gently into the good night it would be at a rest stop. That way he wouldn’t take the biggest 50 Expos fans with him. From my seat at the front of the bus I could hear Cromartie on his cell phone arranging for different transport back to Montreal after the ceremony.
We ended up getting there with less than an hour to spare. The 50 of us found a spot near the soundboard, and I went to wander and look for Expos fans.
Whitey Herzog was also inducted that day, and the number of Cardinals fans was impressive. There were many, many Cubs jerseys as well. I’d say that Expos fans (at least those wearing Expos apparel) made up about 20 percent of the crowd that day, but much like back at the Stade, what we lacked in numbers we more than made up for in cheering (or booing, as was the case when Bud Selig spoke). We were loud. By the end of the day, my voice was gone. We’d been making up for six summers with no cheering.
It was an incredible feeling to hear Dawson speak, and to hear him speak so fondly of his time as a member of the Expos organization. I credit his induction into the Hall that day as the starting point for what has been a renewed longing for baseball in Montreal. It was as if on the 6th anniversary of the Expos leaving for D.C., the baseball community was beginning to acknowledge the storied history of baseball in my town. The tri-colour cap with the M is now bronzed on a plaque as a permanent reminder that there was some pretty good ball played in my town, once upon a time.
The bus ride home was long. Extra-innings long, in fact, because Serge drove towards Buffalo for an hour before realizing that he went the wrong way. When I got back, I slept for a couple of hours and hustled back to my gig at the festival. I just hope I’m not working a weekend job when Pedro Martinez is inducted….