Ever since the Montreal Expos left for Washington, D.C, for the 2005 season, I have been a baseball fan without a team. I am desperately searching for a team to call mine. That might not seem like much, but when baseball was your life growing up, it leaves a void.
Following the athletic careers of my two children temporarily filled the void. However as my children have become adults, it’s time to find that passion again for baseball.
Friends, neighbors and acquaintances from my childhood probably would find it hard to believe how baseball has fallen from my list of priorities over the years. I was a baseball nut. I lived baseball.
Rumor has it that my father gave me my first glove when I was a newborn at the hospital.
I remember going to his softball games as a child, and they were fastpitch games, not the beer-drinking slowpitch leagues.
I remember playing catch in the driveway, back yard and in the street.
I remember many broken house, garage and even car windows. (Thanks Dad for never getting mad and never making me pay to replace any of them.)
I remember that most of my art projects in school involved baseball fields.
I remember all those years of playing, from little league to Babe Ruth to American League to a semipro league, which really is just a fancy way of saying it was an adult rec league. (Yes, I did play with and against some who made it to the minors, but calling it semipro seems overly optimistic.)
However, what I remember most are all those family vacations to Montreal to take in a game or two. We grew up just outside of Albany, N.Y., so our major-league options were limited. While we did have family on Long Island, my parents weren’t thrilled with the idea of a family vacation to New York City. And I can’t say I blamed them. New York City in the mid-70s wasn’t what it is today.
So we would drive north for four hours or so to watch the Expos, first at Jarry Park, then at Olympic Stadium. And living so close to Cooperstown, we made numerous trips there also. I was in baseball heaven, except for the product on the field.
It was rough following the Expos, an expansion team in 1969, in the early 1970s. Despite all the losses, it still was enjoyable tracking the careers of Carl Morton, John Boccabella, Coco Laboy, and my favorite of all –- Rusty Staub.
Their only playoff appearance came in 1981, a strike-shortened season. They beat the Philadelphia Phillies in the first round before losing to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Rick Monday’s ninth-inning home run in the top of the ninth off Steve Rogers.
But there was hope again in 1994, when the Expos were 74-40, leading their division by six games in early August and on pace to win more than 100 games. On the field, they were led by Larry Walker, Moises Alou, Pedro Martinez and Marquis Grissom. In the dugout was Felipe Alou.
However, on Aug. 12 a strike shortened the season and wiped out the playoffs and World Series. The Expos and their fans missed a golden opportunity — the team to generate more revenue and interest with a postseason run and the fans to show their support and root for a title contender.
What could have been a milestone season turned into the slow decline of the franchise, which was a small-market club with small-market money. The strike hurt the team’s chances for a new stadium, which was badly needed, and the owners decided not to re-sign their big stars. Players started leaving in droves.
When the team was sold to Jeffrey Loria in 1999, the handwriting was on the wall. The Expos would be leaving Montreal. It was a slow and painful death, one that eventually came September 29, 2004, with the official announcement of the franchise moving to Washington, D.C.
Friends assumed I would become a fan of the Nationals, but I just couldn’t. As a matter of fact, I started hating all things D.C., and even wished the franchise ill will, hoping for small crowds and many years at the bottom of the standings. I have since softened my stance and even plan to attend a game at Nationals Park this summer.
Unless you have been through something like this, it’s hard to understand. As a kid, I didn’t comprehend it when hearing how Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants fans felt about their teams moving west in the late 1950s. After all, the players are the same. In many cases, the front office is the same. They just play in a different city.
Being a sports fan, and baseball in particular for me, is about emotions. I couldn’t get emotional about the Washington Nationals. I was a Montreal Expos fan, not a Washington Nationals fan. I had Montreal Expos posters, hats, uniforms, etc., in my room. Our family trips were to Montreal not Washington. It was even exciting going to a different country to see my favorite team.
So in 2005, I began searching for a new team. My wife is a fan of the Atlanta Braves, and in the late 1980s, we attended many games in Atlanta. I tried following them. As much as I enjoyed watching Chipper Jones, Ryan Klesko and others throughout the 1990s with my wife, it wasn’t the same.
As a kid, I attended many games at Shea Stadium. And since Staub had some of his best years in New York, I tried the Mets. Still, it didn’t work.
In 1984 and ’85, I worked for the Winter Haven Red Sox, the single-A team of the Boston Red Sox. So, I tried becoming a member of Red Sox Nation. Again, no luck.
I thought about the Kansas City Royals — my sophomore year of high school I went to their spring training for a week. Talk about being in heaven.
I thought about the St. Louis Cardinals, where east meets west and where there is a great baseball tradition.
I looked at the Baltimore Orioles, who had a great new park.
I looked at many other teams also.
Nothing worked. I was beginning to wonder what was wrong. Why couldn’t I find a team to follow? Had I lost the passion for baseball?
Then, I stumbled across the answer.
“You do not choose your team. Your team chooses you.”
That was posted in a reader blog. How fitting.
Looking back on my reasons for being an Expos fan prove that. They found me when we took all those trips. They made me emotional about the game and the team.
I couldn’t replace that by trying to latch on to another team.
Again, a blogger summed it up, “I suggest that you remain a free agent. There is no reason that you can’t enjoy a sport without being a fan of a particular team … Not having a particular favorite team takes nothing away from my enjoyment of a game.”
I still enjoy the game of baseball — from high school to college to the minors and the majors.
Maybe one day, I will be a fan of a particular team. But if so, I’m sure it will be because the team found me and I didn’t find the team.