Saturday, February 16, 2013

February 16- Montreal Expos


To get a full sense of how last year started for me be sure to read this first. http://beardtobefeared.blogspot.com/2012/02/kid.html
It’s the original post I had before I went to Arizona for the MLB Fan Cave final audition.

It’s amazing how much I’ve grown as a person in the last 366 days. On February 15, 2012 I was just a happy-go-lucky 29-year-old kid, bound for bigger and better things as my campaign for the MLB Fan Cave had been going better than expected. After doing one TV interview with the local Fox/CBS affiliate in Eugene my story had been picked up by all of the major sports Web sites (Yahoo!, Deadspin, ESPN, NBCSports, etc.), and I was quickly making a name for myself throughout the baseball community. As great of a feeling as it was that I was almost guaranteeing my entrance into the Fan Cave, none of it really seemed to matter by the afternoon of February 16. Gary Carter, my childhood idol and inspiration for my path into baseball had passed away.

It was pretty much a for sure thing that I would be writing about this hat today, as it is not only a year later from Carter’s passing, it’s also one of the more important hats that I own. From the Montreal Expos first season in Major League Baseball in 1969 through the end of the 1991 season the team donned this amazing, and truly iconic hat. It was one of the first of its kind; a pinwheel of colors which also captured the spirit of the city in which the franchise was founded. For those who don’t know the name Expos comes from the 1967 World’s Fair which was dubbed Expo 67, and is in fact the most successful World’s Fair of the 20th century in regard to attendance and number of countries who participated. As a kid the only time I ever really got to watch the Expos on TV was whenever TBS played the Atlanta Braves games in which they played throughout the season. Aside from that, the Expos cards were always my favorite to collect because they had the most interesting players and colors. Despite being an avid Oakland Athletics fan, I quickly developed a love for the Expos which I justified as my National League team. I wouldn’t be until I was 14-year-old that I would finally purchase an Expos cap, this one to be precise.

This is the first fitted cap I’ve ever owned, and truly the inspiration for my love of New Era Caps. More importantly, this is around the time when the internet really began to take off, and I was finally able to watch Gary Carter in some Expos highlights, as opposed to trying to recreate a play from his career based on the assortment of Carter Expos cards I owned. You see, the first time I ever saw Carter in action was during the 1986 World Series as a member of the New York Mets. I understood that he had played on a different team because of his baseball cards, but never got to enjoy it the way that my elders and the fine people of Montreal got to experience. In my lifetime I was only fortunate enough to see Carter play live once, but as a member of the San Francisco Giants, which has always left a sour taste in my mouth. But the most important thing that I value about this hat is that I bought it while the team still existed.

#4001- This number actually represents me. Like Montreal, I was heartbroken when the players strike ended the 1994 season for the Montreal Expos. If you don’t remember, the team had gone 74-40 in their first 114 games, and were primed to not only win their second division title (1981 being their only), but most analysts were saying the team was the outright favorite to win the World Series. Being 11-year-old, I didn’t really have a full understanding of what was going on. All I knew is that it was over. As years followed the Expos had difficulty keeping their talent; Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Marquis Grissom and Moises Alou all moved on to greener pastures, and the attendance at Olympic Stadium dipped to an average of 4000 fans per game. Therefore, even though I never attended a single Expos game in person, I watched all of them after the ’94 season on whatever channel would play them. I am fan #4001, and I never stopped supporting the team until they packed up and moved to Washington, D.C.; a move which I will forever be upset about.

#8- It wasn’t until his passing that I put hi number on this cap. I’m still not sure how I was able to keep it together, as this is the only hat I’ve ever marked with tears streaming down my face. I never met Gary Carter, but from every article I read, and every time I saw him on TV, I could tell that he was one of the most genuine human beings the world had ever known. His smile radiated, and his hard work and determination motivated others, especially a three-year-old kid living in Stockton, California. When Carter passed I cried almost as hard as when I found out the news that my best friend had been killed when I was 19-years-old. I’ve always been an extremely emotional person; however, this was one of the few times I had ever been truly inspired to do better for as many people as possible. With the Fan Cave only a few weeks away, I couldn’t think of a better platform to be able to inspire kids and spread my love of the game in the way that Carter inspired me.

It started in Phoenix during Day 1 of the Fan Cave auditions. I’ve always been a rather superstitious person, so I made sure to pack the one hat that I felt most comfortable wearing throughout my trip. I got a lot of questions from the other candidates and executives about it, as I was supposed to be the representative of the Oakland A’s. Every answer I gave consisted primarily of me pointing to the number on my hat and saying, “I’m a bigger fan of him.” Most people got it, or so I thought. Our first task was an “elevator pitch” to the suits of MLB, which is basically a 60 second reason why they should take us. I only needed 58 seconds, but every word that came out of my mouth felt as if every baseball fan who couldn’t be there took over my body. I never used the word “deserve,” I used the word “earned,” but most important, I talked about all of the things that made the game great… al the while with #8 on top of my head. The rest of the day consisted of killing it at MLB trivia and singing in public for the first time since I was 13-years-old. I don’t think I’ve ever been so “on” in all my life.

When I went to New York as one of the nine finalists for the Fan Cave I had said publicly that I would honor Gary Carter when I first walked in, but that didn’t come without its moments of controversy. All eight of the other Cave Dwellers had work the gear of the team they were representing, while I opted to wear a Mets Gary Carter Player-T along with an Expos cap. This was the first time I realized that no one ever listened to a word I said. When we were finally allowed inside I dropped my hooded sweatshirt, showing off my Carter shirt. People finally started to get it, but not until I wrote this on the top of one of chalkboard pillars…

In early April I was finally able to meet Dave Kaufman, a radio personality in Montreal who I became good friends with after a late night of boozery and Montreal Expos chatter.

Dave had given me an open invitation to visit and stay with him in Montreal after I was done with the Fan Cave, something we both had chalked up to taking place some time in 2013. Little did either of us know that I was going to be the first person axed. So, at the end of July I made my way out to take him up on his word. I stayed with him for a week and he was kind enough to tell me stories of all the Expos games he attended throughout his life, and even took me to the stadium which the Expos called home from 1977-2004. We had only planned on taking exterior shots, but lucky for us, someone had left the doors unlocked…

Throughout the week Dave and I talked about how the team’s departure affected the city. Almost every day in which I wore an Expos hat we were greeted with praise from the locals, but I never stopped any of them to go into more detail; a move I truly regret. From what I had gathered, the team was still reeling from the loss of their team, especially in the wake of the Washington Nationals having a very successful season. One of the things that Dave and I made sure to do was visit Cooperstown and the MLB Hall of Fame. It was the first time I had ever visited the museum, and I of course couldn’t think of a better hat to rock than this one.

When I visited Washington, D.C. I happened to be there for when the Nationals started a three game series against the Mets. The first day happened to be “throwback” day. This made perfect for the fact that I was all ready going to wear my Expos game, but it was especially weird when the Nationals decided to honor the Senators, as opposed to the actual past. So, I made sure be that representative. I even tried (unsuccessfully) to move the team back to Montreal…

I think if there’s one thing I’m most proud of over this last year it’s that I never lost myself. My mission over the last year was to be an inspiration to the next generation of baseball fans, much in the same light that Carter was to me. Despite having a short run in the Fan Cave I can honestly say that it was a success. I visited 27 of 30 stadiums and treated fans to tickets and good conversation, all the while I stopped and talked to every fan who recognized me and wanted to chat. I met my girlfriend, Angie Kinderman, during my stop in Miami, and I got to be there for almost every big moment the A’s had this season including their miraculous run to win the American League West title. Despite all the hardships I faced on the road, as well as the coldness I’ve received from MLB since my exile, I can still look at this hat and smile like Carter at all of the great, and amazing things I’ve done. Thank you Gary; everything I’ve become is because of the drive and passion you gave every day of your life. I will go and do likewise until my final breath.

2 comments:

  1. Sadly, I only ever saw Carter play for the Mets, but he was still pretty dang good, and helped them win a World Series in '86. Plus he was pretty good in RBI Baseball for the NES.

    Loved the 1992-1996 Expos. Everyone always talks about how Tony Gwynn was screwed that year, but it was really the Expos. That was a great team.

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