The annual cash-grab co-hosted by Major League Baseball and the Toronto Blue Jays took place this weekend, with pre-season games taking place at Montréal's Olympic Stadium, this year pitting the Jays against the Boston Red Sox. The BoSox won both games, which is probably the best outcome for me, as a former ball fan.
Friday's game was special, because prior to the game, former Montréal Expos greats Tim Raines, Pedro Martinez, Vladimir Guerrero, and Ellis Valentine, as well as former stars Jose Vidro and Marquis Grissom were honoured - and they received an ovation that was louder than any other noise heard during the actual game. Martinez had kind words for the city, too.
I had four spots reserved for me by the organization trying to put Raines into the Hall Of Fame, something I am greatly in support of; you might recall how disappointed I was when he didn't make the cut last January...
In hockey terms, excluding Raines from the Hall is akin to excluding Joe Sakic: sure, he wasn't the best of all time, nor the best player of his era, but he was the second-best of all-time in some respects, and the best of his Conference/League at his position for most of his career. With two league championships on stacked teams (the Colorado Avalanche for Sakic, the New York Yankees for Raines) to boot.
(Yes, Raines and Sakic were my favourite position players in their respective sports).
Because I was with a delegation of folks who only have one more shot at getting Raines in the Hall, I got to re-live my childhood and have this card signed in blue sharpie, though he was in a hurry:
1987 Donruss set, showing him wearing the Expos' original (1969-1991) white (home) uniform in a pre-game photo shoot.
Raines was the best lead-off hitter and base stealer in the National League in his era - and second-best of all-time in both categories; he was also the best switch-hitter of his generation, counting both the 1980s and 1990s. (I was a switch hitter because I wanted to be like him).
He overcame a pretty intense drug addiction and proved to be a team player for the longest time, while other stars such as Gary Carter and Andre Dawson left for a bigger payday as soon as they could.
His return to the Expos in 2001 was similar to that of Patrick Roy coming back to the Bell Centre to have his jersey retired in 2008 - the prodigal son had returned, except Raines had never asked to leave.