Saturday, April 6, 2013

April 6- Montreal Expos

If there’s one thing I learned today, it’s that it is incredibly difficult to write and research during an 18-hour train ride from the Bay Area to Portland, Oregon when you are sitting in the aisle seat next to a high school-aged kid who constantly gets up to go to the bathroom. I mean, I’m no big city urologist, but I think that kid should get checked out for early onset prostate complications, if such a thing exists. The biggest problem in my travel fiasco is that my train left from Richmond, California around 9:47 PM PST and I didn’t have a speck of internet until I reached my final destination of Union Station in downtown Portland. This posed a few problems as

1. I couldn’t research any of the players I’m writing about.

2. I wasn’t able to post my story.

But even at that, as I mentioned above, trying to type in such a rickety area because an incredible nuisance for me. Thus, the biggest lesson I learned is to get my ass writing way before I get into any kind of a moving vehicle when I have deadlines (even personal ones) to meet!

I first came across this cap in March of 2012 after my friend, and fellow MLB Fan Cave Dweller hopefully Bryan Mapes (@IamMapes) sent me photo from the local Lids in Brookfield, Connecticut. I had seen this hat before, but not since Andres Galarraga sported it in this photo from Olympic Stadium in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. 

This Montreal Expos hat was only used for one season in 2002 as part of the first line of mesh batting practice caps which New Era introduced during spring training. Unlike the batting practice caps of the last eight years or so, these were 5950 style; in that they had a higher, stiffer crown, unlike the low profile 3950s. The one that I’m wearing in the photo above, as well as the one that Mapes had shown me was a replica wool style, which I much prefer. I was never the biggest fan of the mesh style caps; however, I did enjoy the color patterns as well as the original logo choices that New Era decided to produce for the vast majority of them. Obviously in the case of the Expos the logo is the same one they’ve used since their debut season in 1969 through their final year in 2004.

I’ve only worn this cap a handful of times; mostly because I’m honestly not a big fan of the way the color red looks on me. This is something you may notice if you ever shuffle through my photos of Facebook or Instagram (@shakabrodie). I always prefer wearing darker colors because they’re easier to match. Plus I have dark hair, a dark beard, green/blue eyes and very pasty skin. All those years of living in the Pacific Northwest have turned me into a bit of a cast member from “Twilight” reject to say the least. Wearing red makes this way more apparent. The one thing that I do love about this cap is the personal history it shares between my best friend Sam Spencer and myself.

Back in 2005 Sam served as my assistant manager at the Woodburn, Oregon Just Sports (@JustSportspdx) location where I served as store manager for two-and-a-half years. I lived about 15 miles north of Woodburn in the heavily Mormon populated town of Woodburn, a suburb of Portland. Sam unfortunately was still living with his parents up in Vancouver, Washington at the time and crashed at my house most nights since The Couve was an hour away from the store. On the nights in which he crashed we always made sure to get buy a 12-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon, something for dinner and end the night with two to three games of All-Star Baseball 2003 for my old school XBOX. While I could have upgraded to later versions, I always found that the 2003 edition was the most fun for the sake of nostalgic lineups. Case in point: the Montreal Expos.

For those of you who have never scoured for hours playing any sports-related video games, the one thing you need to know is that whatever year was tagged on the game you’re playing, the company always used the rosters from the last date of the previous year. Therefore, in the 2003 version of All-Star Baseball, we rocked hard with the 2002 Expos squad. Both of us were especially miffed at how the 1994 Expos got the shaft on account of the players strike, so we figured we’d do the next best thing and make sure the Spos got themselves a well-deserved trophy to the tune of going 158-4 on the regular season and only losing one game in the playoffs; Game 2 of the ALDS versus the Houston Astros. Those jerks! It took us three nights a week for four months (plus several simulated games) to pull it off, at which all we got, was a congratulatory message and a weak-ass celebration from the computer-generated players on the field. We both looked at each other with disgusted looks on our faces, as if we could have done way more important things with our lives.

I finally picked this cap up at one of the Lids locations near Times Square in downtown Manhattan. It was kind of funny because Mapes had promised to buy it for me, but I ended up getting this and like six other hats in the process. Mapes saw what I was doing and gave me a wicked, “What the hell!?” Since I had all ready paid there wasn’t much I could do, so he offered to buy me another cap on the rack which I didn’t all ready won. Luckily they had a mid-1990s Milwaukee Brewers cap I didn’t own, but that post will come at a later date. When I got back to the apartment that MLB had hooked us up with in SOHO I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought back on Sam and my four month quest. With that, I knew exactly which numbers to throw on this cap.

#14- As I mentioned above, Andres Galarraga is the one person I remember most to wear this cap, but more important, Galarraga was the National League MVP throughout the season that Sam and I had played with the Expos. Sam and I had a foolproof system every time we played. I took care of the pitching, and he handled all of the guys in the field. When it came to batting, I took all of the odd batters and he took all of the even ones. Galarraga was a consistent pinch hitter for the Expos that season; however, in OUR season, Galarraga was the starting first baseman over Lee Stevens. Don’t get me wrong, as a loyal Expos fan, I love Lee Stevens, but in the video game world Lee Stevens can suck it. We needed the clutch power hitting; which Galarraga did to the tune of a .654 batting average with 74 home runs and 167 runs batted in. Yah! We were setting all sorts of records which unfortunately were not recognized by Major League Baseball. Damn shame too. In reality, Galarraga had only gone .260/9/40 that season, so in a way, Sam and I truly improved history.

#23- Javier Vazquez is one of those weird pitchers in MLB history who had moments of absolute brilliance and moments of absolute horror throughout his career. He was originally drafted in the fifth round of the 1994 draft out of Puerto Rico by the Expos and hung with the team from his debut in 1998 through the end of the 2003 season. During his six-year run he posted a 64-68 record with a 4.16 ERA and 1076 strikeouts, the largest chunk with one team for his career. He never won a single award, nor was he ever really in the running for one during his time in Montreal. For his career Vazquez only made one All-Star appearance in 2004 with the New York Yankees and finished in fourth place for the NL Cy Young in 2009 with the Atlanta Braves, the only finish he had for the award. While Vazquez can at best be viewed as a mediocre pitcher, the one thing that people tend to forget about is that he was one hell of a hitter (for a pitcher). Vazquez is a career .204 hitter with one home run and 29 RBI to his name. However, in the video game world, it was his start against the Cleveland Indians on June 21 at the Big O that Vazquez made history.

The thing about batting in All-Star Baseball 2003 is that the hitting zone for each player fluxuates in two ways: the contact zone is in the form of an isosceles triangle and ranges in size based on one’s batting average. The power zone is in the form of an equilateral triangle inside the contact zone and you can use the option of only using that in order to crush more home runs. The other thing is that you can tilt the angle of the contact zone to direct the ball wherever you want it to go after contact. In the case of Vazquez, he had a huge contact zone and little power; rightfully so. CC Sabathia was pitching for the Indians in the contest and I had control of Vazquez on the mound and at the plate. Because Sabathia pitches lefty and Vazquez bats righty I tilted my contact point toward the left field wall every time. And, every time I made contact, I was rewarded with bases. I got a double in the first at-bat and a single in the second. I really had no intentions of getting fancy with the bat, but on the third at-bat I decided to tilt the cursor toward right field and put it on the outside of the strike zone in case the computer decided to throw me some outside sliders. Sure enough, it did. And sure enough I hit the hardest low-flying home run in the history of pitchers at the Big O. By the time Vazquez’s fourth at-bat came around Sabathia had been pulled for Jerrod Riggan, but all I kept thinking about was going for the triple. I tilted my cursor in the same manner as the home run, but laid it flatter as to only get a chalk-scrapping punch to the right field corner. I fouled off the first two pitches and took the following two for balls. With a 2-2 count I got a little ahead of the pitch but chopped it perfectly to where I wanted. Matt Lawton was playing right field for the Indians at the time and I did my best to test his arm as I booked Vazquez around the bases. Vazquez was only a third of the way around second by the time Lawton threw the ball from the corner. By some miracle the defensive instincts for the computer kicked on and Omar Vizquel cut the ball off. Thus, allowing Vazquez to ring in the cycle with ease. Oh Javier!!!

#24- This player will ring a bell for a few of you, and be a completely afterthought for others. On April 23 the Expos played host to the Brewers as a free agent pickup by the Boston Red Sox from 1999 took the mound for the Spos. From 2001-2003 this Japanese national pitcher wore #24 for the Expos in which his 13-8 record with a 3.18 ERA in 2002 proved to be the bests of his career. On this date; however, Tomo Ohka had a day of destiny in the video game world.

Ben Sheets took the mound for the Brewers, a team whose only offensive threats came in the form of Richie Sexson, Eric Young, Geoff Jenkins and Ronnie Belliard. Ohka, for some reason, was feeling it. The first three innings went by fairly quick: three strikeouts and a lot of grounders and pop pouts. Innings four through seven were riddles with at least two strikeouts per inning and a lot of brilliant catches by Sam on the field defense. It was at this moment that I paused the game and noticed what was going on. We had built an 8-0 lead and Sheets had all ready been replaced by Mike Buddie in the fifth. But then we both took a look at the Brewers’ offensive numbers: zero hit and zero walks. With six outs to go I got a little nervous. I’ve always been prone to throw strikes as I hate playing games that last more than an hour; however, in this case I became a bit more daring and started painting corners a little bit harder as Ohka’s fatigue level hadn’t really registered yet. Sexson went down to strikes, Jenkins took on to the right field warning track where a patient Vladimir Guerrero was waiting to make out number two and Alex Ochoa grounded out for the final out. With the heart of the lineup gone, all I had left was Jose Hernandez, Raul Casanova and whomever was going to be pinch hitting.

I think the computer sensed what was about to happen and opted to bunt with Hernandez… but I was ready for it; a real jerk move on its part. One down. Casanova battled, taking Ohka’s total pitch count over 110; thus making it harder to control. With the eighth pitch of the at-bat Casanova bounced a dribbler up the middle, but slow enough for Jose Vidro to do a quick scoop and throw. Two down. Finally, it was time for the final test: Mark Loretta. I’d like to say it was more exciting of a finish, but Loretta popped it up to the first base side for an easy out by Galarraga. Sam and I went crazy despite the pathetic fireworks display I got; however, I did get a slew of baseball card points which ultimately unlocked retro jerseys. So that was awesome.

Yup! This hat will always have a special place in my heart to remind me of the day when my best friend and I did good by the fine people of Montreal… even if it was in the video game world.

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