COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. — The Montreal Expos are such a distant, albeit dear, memory that when the Hall of Fame went looking for a jersey to put in Tim Raines’ exhibit, even Raines did not have one. Fortunately for all concerned, a collector agreed to loan the colorful 1981 Raines shirt that he owns.
The man was thrilled to do it, too. “It’s a great summer to be an Expos fan,” said Perry Giannias, having driven 5 ½ hours from Montreal Friday with his son and friends to lead what promises to be a strong Canadian contingent for Raines’ induction Sunday. Giannias, who organizes an annual event called ExposFest, noted that former Expo Vladimir Guerrero earlier was enshrined in the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
“And now we have Raines go into Cooperstown,” he said. “For a city that has no baseball team, it’s as good as it gets.”
That is the rub. The fact the Expos moved to Washington (and were renamed the Nationals) 12 years ago is enough to make this a bittersweet weekend. It could be one last hurrah for the once-beloved franchise, the last public recognition of any kind (if Guerrero ever makes Cooperstown, he likely will go in as an Angel).
Or, this might be a shot of adrenaline for the effort to bring baseball back to Montreal. In either case, the festivities and ceremony here will be an exercise in joie de vivre. At least four and possibly five buses of Expos fans are expected to attend. He will be inducted along with Jeff Bagwell and Ivan Rodriguez as well as former commissioner Bud Selig and longtime Royals and Braves executive John Schuerholz.
“It means a lot because Montreal was the biggest part of my career,” Raines said recently on a conference call. “I mean, it’s where I started. It’s where I grew up as a major league player. It’s where I lived for 12 years.”
Raines also takes great pride in having been on the Yankees team that ended the long title drought in 1996. “We didn’t care who was going to be the star, from one day to the next. And we truly enjoyed playing together,” said the outfielder who also played 109 games for the champion 1998 Yankees.
But he never received cheers as loud and heartfelt as the ones that engulfed him when he returned for a second tour with the Expos in 2001. Chances are, he will hear a reprise Sunday.
“It’s amazing to have Tim Raines go in the Hall of Fame. When I was a 5-year-old, he was the first baseball player I really admired. I followed his whole career. I’m actually a White Sox fan now because he got traded there,” said Rahul Behl, who was admiring the Raines display case.
His children Maya and Daylin, 11 and 8, respectively, wore Expos shirts and caps even though the team never has existed in their lifetimes.
Might there be Expos, Part II? “I’m trying not to get my hopes up,” Behl said.
Not so for Giannias. Before the question was even asked, he said, “2021. They’re going to play in Olympic Stadium for a couple years while a new downtown park is being built. It’s going to be right near the river. They’re modeling it after (San Francisco’s) AT&T Park.”
He believes there will be more jerseys and memories to collect, and that many more summers will be good ones to be an Expos fan.