Monday, July 8, 2013

June 23- Jacksonville Expos

It all started a few weeks ago when I got a text message from my friend John Beare (@Interstate19) some time around 9:30 in the morning. I had literally just woken up when I read, “Did you get an email from New Era?” which sent a light surge of adrenaline through my body and motivated me to immediately see what he was talking about. Sure enough, there it was. He and I had both been invited for a weekend visit to New Era’s headquarters in Buffalo, New York. I quickly texted him back to let him know that I had received the same email. There was something in the bottom of the email which I may have misread about confidentiality, which I took as “be sure to keep this a secret.” I didn’t bother asking about it and decided to that the best course of action was to remain quiet until further details were provided. I also kind of figured that it would be better to keep any mention out of public view for the sake of anyone who may become sad or upset by not receiving an invite as well. The last thing I wanted to do was rain on anyone’s parade.

My plane flew out around 6:30 AM on the morning on June 23rd, which meant that I had to wake up somewhere around 3:00 AM to wake up and get ready only to then hike a mile-and-a-half to the train which then took an hour to get to the airport. Luckily for me, I was smart enough to print my boarding pass off at home so that all I had to do was get through security as soon as my train pulled into the airport. I was surprised to see the security lines so short. Normally when I’m in a hurry I’m “blessed” with having to wait over 45 minutes to get through the metal detectors. No this time. I got through in about 20 minutes and still had about an hour-and-a-half to kill before my plane started boarding. Having not eaten breakfast before I left the house I decided to get a breakfast burrito from the Mexican joint next door to my gate. The other thing I decided to do was grab an AM ale as well since the airport is the only place in Oregon one can legally purchase alcohol outside of the designated hours (7 AM- 2:30 AM). The beer was pretty good, a Drop Top Amber Ale; however, my burrito was questionable at best. 

I had ordered it to contain eggs, cheese and bacon only, but it arrived with ham instead of bacon. One could easily argue that both products come from the same animal and I really had nothing to complain about. To that person I say, “You just don’t know swine my friend.” I sucked it up and devoured about 75% of it before I got my fill. It was also in this moment that my stomach decided to go through a turn of the “mumbles and grumbles.” Having to be on a plane for the next six hours, with a brief layover in Chicago, I knew this was not going to make the trip an easier… but I managed.

The plane landed in Buffalo around 3:30 PM EST. I quickly rounded up the one bag that I brought with me on the journey and headed out into the terminal. New Era had hooked it up with a ride from the airport so I dashed out as soon as I could just in case someone else had landed close to the same time as I had who also happened to be catching the same ride as me. Sure enough, this became a reality, and this is how I met Van (@VanLe23). Van hails from Seattle, which is about 180 miles from my stomping ground of Portland. He has been an avid collector for a few years longer than myself, specializing in a lot Seattle-based team caps which he displays on his YouTube page under the user name: Van Le. The whole time I walked out of the terminal and down to the car I had meant to snag a photo of the driver holding a sign with my name as I had this series of photos and tweets I wanted to send out as homage to John McClane and Argyle in the film “Die Hard.” Unfortunately, this didn’t happen. Sorry. What did happen was that Van and I chatted the whole way to the hotel, getting to know one another as neither of us had spoken to one another prior to that moment. In fact, it wasn’t until we were in the car together that I came to the realization that we were on the same plane together from Chicago to Buffalo; which is all made funnier by the fact that we both said that we were looking for anyone wearing a New Era Cap.

We arrived at the hotel in about 15-20 minutes, passing by Coca-Cola Field where the Buffalo Bisons, the AAA affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, play during the third game of their four-game series against the Durham Bulls. After the driver dropped Van and me off at the hotel I can only assume he was in a hurry because he got right back into the car and took off as I was trying to hand him a $5 tip. Or, things are done just a little bit different in Buffalo. When we got inside I let Van take the lead to check-in first. Once the desk clerk brought up his information on the screen, she turned around and picked up two bags off of the floor and handed them to Van. She then did the same for me. We then hopped in the elevator up to our rooms to decompress a little bit, as well as to see what was in store for us.

The Hotel Lafayette is a pretty classy establishment. It has a very classic, turn-of-the-century (20th) look about it in the lobby, but then becomes very refined with a mix of hipster once you get into the rooms. It reminded me of the hotel that my girlfriend Angie (@sconnieangie) and I stayed in when we visited Tampa in April, but with a larger bathroom. I had a about an hour to kill before everyone else arrived meet in the lobby at 5:30, so I took the time to crack open my gift bags in case there was a note or anything I needed to look over before heading out. Sure enough, there was. The first bag was a little white goody bag, which contained a letter from one of our hosts from New Era as well as a bottle of Frank’s Red Hot sauce and some chocolate sponge candy, both which have obvious ties to the Buffalo area; a very nice touch. The other bag contained this…

an explosion of New Era-related paraphernalia which included a lanyard (which I needed), a belt (which I really needed), a water pouch, Sharpie (awesome!), headphones, buttons, a mini New Era Cap and a Two-spot travel case with a custom New Era Cap and a Bisons cap inside. Not a bad way to start the trip.

Not too long after I examined my gifts I got a text from John that he had arrived to the hotel after his long flight from Los Angeles. John and I had become well-acquainted through Twitter over the last year, but we had never met. Unlike most people I meet over the internet, I wasn’t too worried with John. I put a lot of faith in New Era on this one and didn’t think I was about to come face-to-face with an ax murderer or something. Kidding. In fact, John and I pretty much continued our conversations without skipping a beat, on top of the “nice to meet yous” and bro hugs that we exchanged as well; standard practice really. But the one thing that caught me off guard was a gift that John had for me. This…

a Modesto Athletics jersey from around 2005. At that immediate moment I looked like an ass because I didn’t have anything in return for him, but then again, that’s kind of the way gift-giving usual works, unexpectedly. I do have a little something-something on standby for John in the future though.

5:30 was only a few minutes away so John and I grabbed what we needed from our rooms, left what we didn’t and headed down to the lobby to meet the rest of the crew. As I mentioned at the top, because I didn’t say anything publically about this event, I didn’t know who I would be meeting. John, on the other hand, had been chatting with a few of these guys for a while and had nothing but great things to say, so I wasn’t too worried. 

The first person I made sure to meet first was our hosts Erin, Seth and Katherine for setting the Fan Appreciation event up. Then it was on to the other collectors: Ricky Ruby from Atlanta (@RickyRuby), Andrew Mitchell from Toronto (@Amitchell_416), Chris Cornolo from Milwaukee (@ccornolo) and Derick Chartrand from Montreal (@LeKid26), as well as John and Van who I mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, three of the other members of crew hadn’t shown up yet, but I’ll get to that in a little bit. The first thing that I noticed was that Derick was wearing a Cooperstown Collection Oakland Athletics cap while I was rocking this Jacksonville Expos lid. It was pretty much guaranteed that we’d be good buds throughout this experience. With all of us accounted for at the moment, it was time for the field trip to get underway.

For the first part of our trip we all packed into two SUVs and made our way to Niagara Falls. I had only been to Buffalo one time prior in my life, coincidentally enough, it also happened to be for a New Era-related event. It took place in August of last year and my total time in the city was approximately three hours as I had to rush to Cleveland immediately afterward for an Athletics/Cleveland Indians game. So with that, I didn’t have time to really check out the city or the surrounding area. I was pretty excited to go, that’s for sure. The SUV I was in consisted of John, Andrew, Derick, Seth behind the wheel and me. It was a cool little 25-30 minute drive. We swapped stories, told a few jokes and I even managed to totally embarrass myself as I came to the realization that Seth and I had met around the end of July in 2012 in Toronto at a Blue Jays game in which they were playing the Athletics. In fact, I was in a beer line, had just gotten done doing the Bernie Lean after a Brandon Inge home run when he spotted me from afar. Classic! But apparently the Molson Ice, or whatever I was drinking, proved too much and killed my memory until mid-trip. Womp womp. Once that moment of awkwardness subsided, it was back to New Era Cap stories and shenanigans ranging from border security issues (guilty) to general sports smack talk.

When we got to the Falls we all piled out and stuck together in a surprisingly organized manner. I guess all those lessons we learned in elementary school really did pay off into our adult years. We went to the visitor’s center first, just to grab a few photos before heading down to rail just to the right of the top of the falls. The view that I had seen from film and television always made it seem as it were a lot taller, but upon closer inspection it wasn’t that bad, just wide. Andrew and Derick were talking about how both had seen Niagara Falls before, but only from the Canadian side, which sat about a half-mile away. In fact, this trip was Derick’s first time out of the country as well as being on an airplane. We all took turns snapping photos and just enjoying the moment.

I’m a sucker for natural bits of awesomeness like this, so I was a happy camper. After about 15 minutes we headed to the opposite side, which took a little bit, but it gave us time to get to know one another. 
From left to right: Ricky, John, The Shark, Chris, Van, Andrew and Derick

Andrew and I hit off pretty quick as we talked about when and where we’d get a New Era tattoo, as well as what celebrities we looked like. He started with saying I looked like RA Dickey (totally plausible) and I said he looked like Tim Duncan, which he’s heard all of his life. It makes sense too; the man is 6’7’’. That’s how it went, for everybody. We all hit it off immediately and truly enjoyed each others’ company.

After the Falls we headed back to Buffalo for dinner at an Italian joint that had opened just a few days prior to our arrival. I’m a bit hazy on this part, but at some point between when we left the hotel and headed to Niagara Falls someone mentioned that we should use a specific hashtag on Twitter and Instagram for our trip. Being the over thinker that I am, I stewed on it for a few hours before spouting out “Crew Era” before we got to the restaurant. To be honest, I thought everyone was going to shut it down. Turns out the exact opposite happened; nice, simple, to the point and catchy. When we got to the restaurant we ordered a round of drinks before we broke bread. Katherine did all of ordering and everything was served to us “family style,” in that everything was brought to the table in waves and essentially consisted of everything on the menu. Around the time thee appetizers started hitting the table, Alex Mendoza (@Type1SXC) from Chicago and Leif Johnson (@Permabox) from New York City arrived, with only Gary Thomas (@24HClnc) from the Bay Area unable to attend due to a family-related matter. Alex sat down next to me and Leif took to the table behind with a lot of the other collectors, while Andrew, Van and I sat with our hosts. Here’s a brief sample of what there was to eat…

Yah! Filling to say the least. Even with the addition of Alex and Leif the atmosphere never skipped a beat. It was reminiscent of all the dinner parties I through for my friends back in Eugene while I was attending the University of Oregon. With everyone being so busy I was always nice to gather once-a-week to catch up, eat and just enjoy one another’s company. What’s most amusing about all of this is that this was just the prelude. We still had an action-packed day ahead of us at New Era headquarters.

Our night at the restaurant concluded with the Discovery Channels broadcast of the Nik Wallenda tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon, which was especially ironic as he had done the same thing across the mouth of Niagara Falls just the year before. Go figure that we would all be watching it after having just visited it. I always love when weird little things like that come together.

It was only about 10:30 PM and none of us were ready to turn in for the night. The hotel had a bar in the back of the lobby that we were going to go for a nightcap; however, it being closed put a little bit of a damper on our fun. I kid you not; every bar within about a 15-20 block radius was closed. No being the type of motley crew that gives up easily, Seth and Katherine steered us in the right direction of a Walgreens that was still open and sold beer. Onward we hiked, picking up the classiest beers a Buffalo Walgreens has to offer: Labatt Blue, Sam Adam Summer Ale and Miller High Life. I’ll let you decided on who picked out the High Life. Unfortunately they didn’t have any 40 ouncers of Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor, so I had to settle for a standby. *sad face* John decided to stick with Coca-Cola, a move you just can’t knock a guy for, and a move I wish I had copied.

The Lafayette was equipped with an outdoor lounge area in the center of the hotel, but up one flight, and surrounded by all of the interior rooms. It’s amazing that we stayed out there as long as we did before the desk clerk said he received too many complaints, but it was totally worth it. We grabbed all the benches we could, forming a circle with all of the beer resting nicely on the coffee table in the center. I timed it; we were out there for two hours just shooting the breeze, cracking jokes, wishing that Gary could have been there with us, going back-and-forth about great games in MLB/NBA/NHL history, and of course, gabbing away about New Era Caps.

When we wrapped things up we all had the “buzz” feeling that we all experienced when we were kids around Christmas time. Our hosts had done a fine job of not spoiling anything, but we all new that great things were to come… and hangovers, massive hangovers awaited us in the morning (except John). Me especially because I was up for another two hours writing articles for the Web sites I write for. Gaaaaahhhh!!!

Onto the hat! I have John to blame for this one. Back in February he made me jealous with an old snapback Jacksonville Expos cap from the mid-to-late 1980s. Even though it was a snapback, it was gorgeous. I’ve always been a sucker for any variety and style of Expos hats, especially ones that are game-style specific which, if you didn’t know, is an incredibly small list. Shoot, I’ve all ready written about two of the three they wore on the field throughout their 35-year history on February 16th and April 6th. The problem with trying to track down a Jacksonville Expos cap is that they, or so I thought, weren’t being made anymore. That is until the day that Angie and I went to the New Era Miami Flagship Store.

I didn’t have any intentions of buying anything that day as my money was pretty tight, but I knew better not to believe that I was going to reserve any kind of restraint. We were greeted within seconds by one of the employees, the manager I think, named Woo. He quickly remarked that I looked familiar and knew straight of the bat that I was a huge hat collector based on the numbers I mark my caps with. To really test this he asked if I could name the teams of the new caps that had just gotten in. I could (Anaheim Ducks, Asheville Tourists and the Myrtle Beach Pelicans). After we chatted for a bit I made my way toward the wall… where I literally froze like a deer caught in headlights. I asked Woo if they had a 7 3/8, they did, and any hopes of showing restraint jumped out of an airplane without a parachute and a time bomb strapped to its chest (feel free to steal that). I did my best to explain the importance to Angie as to why I was so pumped to find this cap. She smiled, told me she loved me and that she was happy I found it. I know there was a bit of sarcasm in there, but I also knew that she knew how much of a big deal this was to me. Not settling for one cap, I also got the Milwaukee Brewers “YOUnifom” cap which I wrote about on June 4th.

Sadly, this is not the correct color pattern for the actual Jacksonville Expos cap, but that really doesn’t matter. The original ones look like this…

I snagged this photo from John’s blog entitled, “Futility Live Here,” as that was literally the first photo to pop up when I did a search on Google; which only goes to show how rare of a find it is. It’s funny how the subtraction of the blue from the original “M” Montreal logo can still make the graphic look awesome and fitting at the same time. The Jacksonville affiliate, which has been known as the Suns since the 1991 season, originally started out as a AAA club from 1962-1968, but was demoted to AA in 1970 (no, I did not forget 1969), which it has been ever since. From 1985-1990 the team was known as the Expos, while every year before and after that stint the team has been known as the Suns.

If you have an extensive knowledge of any of the Montreal Expos teams of the late 1980s and early 1990s then you probably know that I could have gone with any of the big name guys to mark up my cap. I felt that would have been a little too easy and opted instead to do one well-known, one lesser-known, and one guy who very few have ever heard of. This is how I roll.

#16- Whoever the photographer for the Expos was really made my job incredibly difficult when it came to figuring out exactly what number Marquis Grissom was. Here’s what I mean.

Not just in this card, but as well as in his “Baseball America” Top Prospects card Grissom is shown kneeling down with the handle of the bat blocking the first half of the number affixed to the front of his jersey. I kid you not; it literally took me 23 minutes to confirm that the #1 was sitting behind that bat. So thanks a lot, all-around.

Anyway, Grissom, born in Atlanta, Georgia, was the 76th overall (third round) pick in the 1988 amateur draft by the Expos out of Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. He had been considered a prospect as both a pitcher and an outfielder, but the Expos decided to have him abandon the mound and work solely as a position player. He made his professional debut with the Jamestown Expos of the New York-Penn League that fall and advanced quickly through the system which included brief stops in Jacksonville and the Expos’ AAA affiliate the Indianapolis Indians. Grissom made him Major League Baseball debut on August 22, 1989, seeing action in 26 total games while hitting .257 in 74 at-bats. With his rookie status still in tact, Grissom started 1990 in Indianapolis for five games and played in another 98 up in Montreal, hitting .257 again with three home runs, 29 RBI and 22 stolen bases which was good enough for a seventh place finish for the Rookie of the Year award. Grissom’s star would only continue to get brighter.

Grissom would play all the way until the players’ strike in 1994 shortened the season and removed any chance of the playoffs and a World Series. This was especially heartbreaking in Montreal as the Expos had the best record in baseball (74-40) and were projected favorites to win their first title in franchise history, let alone make the playoffs for only the second time and win the National League Eastern Division title for the first time. Unfortunately for the Expos, Grissom’s contract was up and he opted to test the free agent waters rather than re-sign with the team who drafted him. He instead jotted his John Hancock on the dotted line with the Atlanta Braves.

In his last few years with the Expos Grissom compiled a rather stellar list of accomplishment: He led the league in stolen bases twice (76 in 1991 and 78 in 1992), made the NL All-Star team twice in 1993 and 1994, won two Gold Gloves in 1993 and 1994 (two more in 1995 and 1996 with the Braves) and cracked the top-15 in NL MVP voting in 1992-1994. He hit .279 with 54 home runs, 276 RBI, scored 430 runs and stole 266 bases during his tenure with the Expos. In Jacksonville He hit .299 with three home runs, 31 RBI and 24 stolen bases in the 78 games he played in.

#23- John Vander Wal grew up in Hudsonville, Michigan and graduated from Hudsonville High School in Hudsonville. He attended Western Michigan University. He was drafted by the Montreal Expos in the third round of the 1987 Major League Baseball Draft. Of anyone who rolled through Jacksonville on the way to the Majors with the Expos, Vander Wal definitely spent the most amount of time there.

Half-way through the 1988 season Vader Wal was promoted to Jacksonville after a 62-game run with the West Palm Beach Expos of the Class-A Florida State League. From 1988-1990 Vander Wal played in 206 games in Jacksonville, hitting .275 with 17 home runs and 78 RBI. The following season Vander Wal finally got his break in The Show as he debuted with the Expos on September 6, 1991, wearing the same number he wore in the minors. Vander Wal played two more seasons in Montreal before moving on to the Colorado Rockies in 1994, where he would spend all of four seasons and part of another, although he never recorded more than 151 at-bats or appeared in 105 games in any of those seasons. On August 31, 1998, he was traded to the San Diego Padres for a player to be named later and went on to appear in the World Series with the Padres, recording two hits in five at-bats.

Vander Wal spent 1999 in San Diego before moving on to the Pittsburgh Pirates in a 2000 trade that brought Al Martin to the Padres. While playing for the Pirates, he posted his best season, appearing in 134 games, and batting .299 with 24 home runs and 94 RBI. In 2001, Vander Wal was traded to the San Francisco Giants, who later traded him to the New York Yankees for Jay Witasick. Vander Wal was a part-time performer for the Yankees in 2002, before moving on to the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003, and the Cincinnati Reds in 2004, where he recorded just 6 hits in 51 at-bats for a .118 average.

Vander Wal played 14 seasons in the major leagues. 13 of these seasons were with National League clubs, where the pinch-hitter is a much more widely used tactic in the absence of the designated hitter. Vander Wal holds the modern Major League Baseball single-season record for pinch hits, with 28 in 1995 while playing for the Colorado Rockies. In his career, Vander Wal contributed 129 pinch hits, which is one of the highest totals of the modern era, behind Lenny Harris' 212. Vander Wal was inducted into the Western Michigan University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.

#53- As I mentioned above, unless you’re die-hard Expos fan I doubt you’ve ever heard of John Trautwein. Why is he so special? 

Well, Trautwein, a pitcher, was playing Rookie League ball in Helena, Montana with the Brewers of the Pioneer League in 1984 when his contract was purchased by the Expos at the end of the season on October 17th. From 1985-1987 Trautwein bummed around the minors, playing in West Palm Beach in 1985 and the beginning of 1986 before being promoted to the Class-A Burlington Expos of the Midwest League and then to Jacksonville for the last bit of the season. In 1987 Trautwein had, not only the greatest season of his professional career, but the greatest ever recorded in Jacksonville Expos history. That year Trautwein went 15-4, the most wins and best win percentage by any pitcher in their six-year history, accompanied with a 2.87 ERA and 85 strikeouts.

On December 7, 1987 Trautwein was obtained by Boston from the Expos in the Rule 5 draft, but was returned by the Red Sox to Montreal in 1988. Hours later, he was sent by the Expos to Boston in exchange for Victor Rosario. In nine relief appearances for the Red Sox, Trautwein posted a 0-1 record with a 9.00 ERA with no saves, giving up 17 runs (one unearned) on 26 hits and nine walks while striking out eight in 16.0 innings of work. After that, he was demoted to AAA Pawtucket for the remainder if his career which ended in 1990.

Trautwein currently lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife Susie, and his three children. He and his wife Susie are the founders of the Will to Live Foundation in honor of their fifteen-year-old son who took his own life in 2010.


  1. Been watching Suns/Jaxpos/Suns games for 32 years. I'd love to have yhat BLUE Jaxpos cap.

    Great job.

    1. John,

      DM your size. I'll keep an eye out for you the next time I go to the New Era store in Miami.