I just spent the weekend with about 15 guys from Montreal.  As you might imagine, all of them are hockey fans that happened to watch the Expos a little before the team left for Washington.  While not hardcore baseball guys, they certainly understand the worst possible outcome for small market teams in today’s un-capped, draft-pinching MLB.  It was a depressing glimpse into the possible future for fans in small- and mid-population/interest cities across North America as they recounted the bitter, final days of the team.  There is nothing lost on sports fans from Montreal when talking about Jeffery Loria’s publicly funded stadium in south Florida contrasted with the empty beast of Olympic Stadium sitting to the East of downtown – the cavernous monument to the city’s wise decision not to pony up for Loria’s dream park.  With 42 still in theatres, it was also good to hear about the year Jackie Robinson played in front of a more racially accepting crowd for the Montreal Royals prior to moving on to the Dodgers.

When the team moved to Washington, many of these Montrealers switched allegiance to the Red Sox.  The Sox aren’t that far away, after all.  The Nationals weren’t an option.  And the other team in Canada is from the home of the hated Maple Leafs, so the BJs were out of the question, too.   But the Sox have worn out their welcome for many in Montreal.  I heard more than one voice saying that they are no different than the Yankees these days.  With the hockey playoffs extending into mid-June, there isn’t a tremendous sports void to fill in the summer.  But some of the older guys still have a soft spot for America’s National Pastime.  So where do they turn?  Some of them just follow Montreakl’s home grown talent.  One man chose the Pirates thanks to Russell Martin.  Pickin’ fans up one-at-a-time…

My Pirates hat is a big hit around with these guys.  It’s a big hit most anywhere I go, in fact.  People love it.  This past weekend, I heard a bunch of stories from when the Pirates used to come play at the old Jarry Park (when Montreal had an outdoor park downtown) – most notably a mammoth home run by Willie Stargell.  I also heard of the heartbreak at the hands of the Pirates late in the 1979 pennant chase.

And then I heard this story…  A guy named Vic told it to me.  In the summers when he was a kid, he use to go watch the Expos with his friends.  One day he was there with 7-8 other kids looking for autographs and  Willie Stargell walked by.   They all went nuts – screaming and begging for his to sign something – anything!  Willie said if he signed for one kid, he’d have to sign for them all and he just didn’t have time.  But there was one thing he could do… He asked them all to take off their hats.  (The pack of 12-year olds promptly obeyed.)  In awe of the  living legend standing mere feet away, 12-year old Vic couldn’t believe it when the giant balled his meaty hand into a fist and licked the bottom.  He then announced, ‘I’ll give you all the Stargell Stamp‘, and lightly pounded each kid on the top of their head. ‘Now go home and tell your moms not to wash your hair for a week.  You do that and you’ll grow up to be stars in the big leagues.’

Well, Vic’s mom washed his hair anyway.  Now, at 58, he plays in summer hockey leagues – working his ass off to keep up with the 40-year olds.  But that story was a gem.  It’s just another example of how baseball simply transcends.  Being the lone Bruins guy in a room full of hockey-crazed Habs fans, this man took the time to share a special childhood memory simply because I was wearing a cap with a P on it.  Stanley Cup playoff seeds were being determined, and the story of a larger-than-life hero bringing just a moment of pure joy to an otherwise difficult childhood brought the room together.

I wasn’t a fan of the Pirates back in the 70’s.  But apparently I’m getting some of the benefit of Pirate teams of your by becoming a fan now.  Another benefit?  Having a 1st-place team to watch!  Whodathunkit…

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