Tag Archives: Baseball

Maggie’s birthday, and the Montreal Expos

This morning I checked the date and thought, “It’s Maggie’s birthday!”

I laughed at myself then, because Maggie isn’t real. Well, that’s not true. She’s real to me.

She’s a character in a novel I’m writing. She was born in Shea Stadium on the day the Montreal Expos played their first game—fifty years ago today, April 8, 1969. The place and time of her birth determine her destiny: She is the female entrepreneur who brings back the Montreal Expos.

Some people say baseball is life, and I would agree. That’s why so many of our day-to-day expressions (clichés) come from the game: step up to the plate, go down swinging, cover all the bases, throw a curve ball, swing for the fences, or better yet, knock it out of the park. I’m just spitballing here, and maybe you think it’s a screwball idea coming out of left field and that I’m way off base—you can touch base with me about that later—but if you’re a heavy hitter who plays hardball, even if you occasionally strike out, soon it’s a whole new ball game.

I could go on.

Life Lessons from Dead Women (working title) is about baseball and life. Some of Maggie’s life lessons include:

Hot dog buns make excellent pillows.

Damage helps us get a grip.

Wrong is right and right is wrong, but it’s all right.

Curious . . .? I hope so.

Expos baseball cap and jersey with number 8
My Gary Carter jersey. Gary Carter’s birthday was also April 8.

I was alive at the time the Expos played that first game against the New York Mets, but I don’t remember it. I know that my father would have had his nose up to the TV. He was a baseball fan in general and an Expos fan in particular. He taught all of us the game, and led us on trips to Jarry Park to watch them play. I have a vivid memory of sitting in the bleachers and watching the great Rusty Staub warm up.

I don’t remember the game, but I’ll have a chance to listen to it. TSN 690 Radio in Montreal is replaying the original broadcast at 7:00 p.m. EDT, April 8.

https://www.tsn.ca/radio/montreal-690/schedule

Boy at bat
My favourite Expos player: My son, Ben, age 8, during his first trip to the plate.
Steve Rogers signed baseball
Steve Rogers was pretty good too.

Happy 50th birthday, Montreal Expos. And Maggie.

Who are your all-stars?

This week, the biggest stars of Major League Baseball gather in Cincinnati for the All-Star Game; the best of the best of baseball showcasing their skills.

Fantastic baseball players all, but as I followed the events leading up to this event—the stacking of votes by Kansas City Royals fans, and the rally cries from Don Cherry and Stephen Amell (The Arrow) to drum up votes for Josh Donaldson—I wondered: What about life all-stars?

Which people are the best of the best at life?

Taking risks

Pitchers: Who are the people you know who stand alone in the glare of public scrutiny and risk getting things started? Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, but they’re brave enough to take first steps.

Catchers: Who has the whole “field of play” in view and guides you in calling your “game.” Who always works in your best interest? Who knows the opposition you face and devises strategies to deal with it?

Batters: They aren’t the ones who throw the pitches, but they know how to handle them. Who doesn’t flinch from the fastballs life throws at them? Who chooses to ignore “bad” pitches but makes solid contact with the good ones right down the middle? Who can track those tricky curve balls and make the most of them?

Infielders: Who has your back? Who responds with lightning-quick reflexes to handle the hits that hurtle past you? They can’t handle everything, but they stretch themselves to the limit trying.

Outfielders: Who provides long-range help when you need it? Who covers lots of ground with big strides to keep the longer, slower hits from causing damage?

Who are your all-stars? Do some of those people play more than one position? 

Patrolling right field

Patrolling right field

 

 

 

 

 

Reluctant spring

Our 2015 Ottawa spring has been reluctant indeed.

This past weekend we—at long last—enjoyed a warm, beer-on-the-front-porch kind of day. For the entire month of March and the first days of April, it felt like such days would never come. We sat in the sun and said, “Finally, spring is here.”

When I walk to the bus stop in the mornings now, birds sing. One cardinal calls out, and a cardinal friend responds. Smaller birds twitter. I imagine they are singing, “Finally, spring is here.”

Last night, we Canadians watched another of the sure signs of spring: the home opener of the Toronto Blue Jays. Like Charlie Brown, we have been lying with eyes open, tossing and turning, waiting. Like Charlie Brown, we know that when the day dawns baseball, finally, spring is here.

Peanuts-Charlie-Brown-baseball-sun-600x127

Our city has shrugged off its sluggish blanket of snow, awoken the birds and dawned baseball.

Finally.

(I give credit for the title of this post to Lee Ann Eckhardt Smith who used the phrase in a writing piece she completed at a workshop on the weekend.)

The spirit of the Expos: Why baseball and the Expos matter to me

My Gary Carter jersey

My Gary Carter jersey

Bear with me all you non-sports fans—there will be good stuff for you here. I know several of you don’t “get” my interest in sports, but to me, the world of sport teaches participants and spectators life lessons hard to find anywhere else. 

This weekend, the Toronto Blue Jays will play two games against the New York Mets at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. The event has been dubbed “Expos Weekend” even though the Montreal Expos no longer exist—except in people’s hearts, souls and dreams.

These days I’ve been writing a story about the comeback of the Montreal Expos. Some might call it a fantasy piece; I prefer to call it “planning ahead.” There are enough people out there saying “It can never be.” If I have a role to play, it is to balance that out and say, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic if . . .”

My father is at the root of my connection with the Expos. He was the original Expos fan. He watched every televised game and listened to the others on the radio. If a game lasted late into the night, and he didn’t want to disturb the family, he went to the car to listen to the game there. Many a night my father sat outside in the car by himself in the dark listening to Dave Van Horne. 

We made family trips to Jarry Park to watch the team. We always got lost driving in Montreal (who doesn’t?), so the trips were an adventure. My parents left plenty of time though, so we arrived early enough to be rewarded with encounters with heroes like Rusty Staub.

In 1981, on what would become known as Blue Monday, I sat in the TV lounge of my university residence watching Rick Monday hit the home run that ended the play-off dreams of the Expos. I cried. The other girls in my residence couldn’t understand why I was so upset, but I was thinking of my father, and how crushed he would be at the moment. Far away from home, I shared that heartbreak with my father. (Truth told—I’m crying now, remembering.)

In 1994, the Expos had the season of their lives. They were on a roll. They were exciting to watch. They were the best team in baseball. Then, a baseball strike shattered the dream.

My father died in 1999, so he never lived to see the Expos franchise end. In 2005, the team became the Washington Nationals. 

We played baseball as kids. I lived on a farm, so our field was the cow pasture and our bases were pieces of board or dried-up cow patties. We had a huge Louisville Slugger bat that was way too heavy for me to swing. My father taught me to choke up high on the handle to make it work for me.

My son plays baseball now. He’s pretty good. Here’s a picture of his first at-bat. See the name on the T-shirt? Expos. I have to confess to having some tears in my eyes at that moment, too.

first-at-bat

When I watch him play now, when I see him run down a fly ball in left field or strike out a batter, I think: “If only Dad could be here to see this.”

ben-learning

I’m a sports fan, generally. I love the Ottawa Senators, Roger Federer and any Canadian curling team. But baseball is the sport of my soul. It resonates with me. Here’s what I have learned from the game and the Expos:

  • Do whatever you have to do to enjoy the things you’re passionate about.
  • If you get lost, keep going. You’ll get there eventually, and the rewards will be worth it.
  • Sometimes you can do your very best and be oh-so-close to success and still not make it.
  • Sometimes you can do your very best and be oh-so-close to success, and some outside force crushes your dream.
  • If you don’t have everything you need, improvise. You’ll probably end up having more fun that way anyway.
  • If something feels to heavy for you to handle, look for help and learn to adjust. When you make the changes, swing away. You might just make contact.
  • An end is never an end; it’s a transition to another form.
  • Even if a person isn’t physically with you in the room or in the bleachers, a person can be with you anyway.

When the Toronto Blue Jays came along, my father cheered for them, too. They were in a different league, so that was okay. This weekend it will be the Blue Jays, not the Expos, playing at Olympic Stadium.

I don’t know what you think, but I think my father will be along the third base line enjoying the view. 

 

 

The moving finger writes and having writ, moves on: Don’t get stuck

moving-finger

The moving finger writes,
and having writ
Moves on. Nor all your piety
    or wit
Can lure it back to cancel
    half a line,
Nor all your tears wash
    out a word of it.
—Omar Khayyam

I kept this framed poem in my room at university. The words helped me to let go of things that needed letting go—bad grades, big mistakes, over-indulgences.

Now I’m an older suburban mom, and my moving finger has written a lot. Most lines I wouldn’t choose to cancel. I want to cling to memories of the fresh way my children smelled when they came in from playing in the rain, the sound of my son’s toddler laugh, and the way the sun lit up my daughter’s blond hair when she ran across the park behind our house. I want to stop time and cling to all those joyful things. But I have to let go. The moving finger insists upon it.

Letting go is an acquired, and necessary, skill. I foster it in my son during his baseball games. He’s a pitcher, and if a batter hits a grand slam off one of his pitches, he has to let it go. If not, the rest of the game (and any hope of a pleasant atmosphere in the car on the ride home) is ruined. He has to learn from the experience—which pitches to throw, or not throw, to which batters—and let go.

Everyone who knows me well knows that I idolize Roger Federer, professional tennis player. In my opinion, he is the greatest tennis player in history, and he owes his success to his outstanding skill AND his ability to let go. Never count Federer out of a match. If he misses a shot, he doesn’t dwell on the mistake. He learns from it, lets it go and moves on to success.

We like to cling to things, don’t we? We cling to cherished possessions. That’s fine, unless our house begins to look like an episode of Hoarders. We cling to our children. That’s fine, unless we smother them and prevent them from learning to manage their own lives. We cling to our mistakes. That’s fine, unless we get mired in believing that a mistake defines us and forget to learn the lesson and move on.

Letting go leads to success. We can follow the example of Nelson Mandela who let go of resentments about his years in prison. Without bitterness to stumble over, he moved forward to inspire us to seek justice and peace.

“The best pitchers have a short-term memory and a bulletproof confidence.Greg Maddux

ben-learning

My son – learning

She throws like a girl, which is to say, better than many boys

Photo by John Lypian

The first time I saw her play baseball, she was about 10 years old. The long blond hair hanging out the back of her baseball cap was the only sign of this girl in a boy-dominated sport. Without that hair, you would never know. She blew pitches by batters (most of whom were boys), leaving them shaking their heads as they walked away from the plate. She fielded balls athletically and made the long throw from third to get the out at first. She hit a mean ball to the outfield. She had “all the tools,” as they say in the baseball world. She astonished viewers on the bleachers. “Is she for real?” they asked.

Oh, yes. Hannah Martensen was for real all right. This week she was the winning pitcher for the Canadian Women’s Baseball Team in the bronze medal game at the World Cup.

Canada is proud to say she throws like a girl. 

I watched Hannah play with Pinecrest Little League teams in Ottawa, so I’m familiar with her skills. But she is just one member of a team of accomplished athletes, community members and students. All these girls, and all the women on every baseball team from around the world, serve as shining examples to young girls everywhere.

Yes, you can excel at a male-dominated sport.
Yes, it is okay to be the only girl on the team.
Yes, go ahead and strike out batters with your wicked fastball.

And change the meaning of throwing like a girl.