I’m heading to Cooperstown on Sunday with, courtesy of the Team 990, a busload of other Expos widowers and widows to take in Andre Dawson’s induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. I’m extremely happy for The Hawk; his numbers, his graceful style on the field and his persona were and are unquestionably Hall of Fame-calibre. I’m very much looking forward to the trip, but the whole thing has of course got me thinking about the Expos again. About what we used to have and where we, as fans, are now.
Since the removal of the Expos from Montreal, I haven’t followed baseball in any true sense of the word. Sometimes I wonder if that means I was more a fan of the team than of the game. Baseball, I must admit, can still capture my attention, but only for an inning or so. I can never get beyond eight or nine outs because after a while watching baseball begins to feel like staring at a buffet you’re not allowed to eat from. The food looks delicious and you know exactly what it tastes like, but if you can’t partake you can’t help but start to resent it. And then it’s better just not to look.
What I particularly miss about being a baseball fan is the workaday aspect of it. There was, for example, a certain sense of accomplishment in getting out to all three games of a particular home series, a certain sense of duty in finding access to Dave Van Horne’s – and later Elliot Price’s – play-by-play on the radio, any radio, whatever the social situation (sneaking out of my uncle’s 1987 wedding reception with my grandfather to tune in to an inning and a half in the car comes to mind). And yet, paradoxically, it is this near-daily commitment that I most appreciate not having to make anymore. Don’t get me wrong: return the Expos and I’m back in, all the way. But as long as they aren’t here, I realize and appreciate every day that I’m not spending three hours on baseball, that I’m doing other things with that time. When baseball took the Expos away baseball lost its grip on me. It hasn’t gained it back yet.
For Expos fans, Blue Monday used to be one of the worst – for some the worst – thing that ever happened. Rick Monday’s home run in the top of the ninth inning in the fifth and deciding game of the 1981 NLCS spelled the end of the Expos’ one and only playoff run. And though we didn’t know it at the time, because there were still high expectations for the Expos in the following few (ultimately disappointing) seasons, losing out to Monday and the Dodgers was the final significant act for the “Team of the ‘80s.” As fans, Blue Monday haunted us with infinite What Ifs. The same can be said for the strike of 1994, when the Expos, at 74-40, finished (and we really shouldn’t use the term “finished” for 1994, because that business was never, and won’t ever be, finished) the shortened season with the best record in baseball. These and other infuriating disappointments were sufferable, however, because as long as we had a club the infinite What Ifs were assuaged by the infinite nature of baseball itself: there was always next year, and therefore another chance, look forward to with hope.
Now, and for the last six years, we have no next year. Expos fans stand outside the Baseball Time Continuum, frozen, in a permanent and sorry state of Blue Noneday.
On Sunday, however, we get a temporary reprieve, a weekend furlough from desolate Blue Noneday. When Andre Dawson enters the Hall of Fame as a Montreal Expo I’ll emerge from stasis, don my tri-colour cap, and, for a little while, remember what it feels like to be a fan again.