Raines made up for lost time in first game of 1987

Tim Raines will, in all likelihood, be the last Montreal Expo to enter the sacred Halls of Cooperstown. (Photo: Ronald C. Modra) 

Tim Raines will, in all likelihood, be the last Montreal Expo to enter the sacred Halls of Cooperstown. (Photo: Ronald C. Modra) 

Jan. 20th, 2017

Tim Raines – A reflection of life itself

By Gail Johnson

The video clip being shown with great frequency to coincide with Wednesday’s announcement that Tim Raines has been voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame is from May 2, 1987, with the great Vin Scully calling Raines’ “Would you believe …” 10th-inning grand slam home run against the New York Mets in his first game in the majors that year.

Oh, how this clip brings me back:

VID: Raines Debut game of 1987 season, Vin Scully with the call

Among the many skills (quirks?) I’ve developed in my 45 years, I seem to have inherited the ability to remember specific events and dates very clearly, so I don’t need Google to tell me that the game in this clip took place the day after my best friend’s 16th birthday party, so not long before real-life issues like boys, broken hearts, school and first jobs got in the way of the luxury of spending entire summers watching Montreal Expos games and dreaming of one day growing up to be a TSN sportscaster and traveling with the team.

Yes, when I was 15, I was going to become the Alanna Rizzo of the Expos … and if that didn’t pan out, the team’s traveling secretary. Or maybe a beat writer. Whatever would allow me to live and breathe Expos baseball 24/7, and still earn a good living. As it often is in life, reality got in the way of those dreams, but in the summer of 1987, anything was still possible.

I actually remember watching this particular game, so happy that Raines was finally back with the team, and I would go on to watch many more games on TSN of that storybook season, and kept a detailed scorebook of each game. (Aren’t all of the seasons of our youth ‘storybook’?). When you’re young and living in one of those storybooks, seasons like 1987 will last forever, players will never get traded or leave to free agency, and the Expos will be around forever. When you’re young, there is always going to be another year, another season, another chance.

With this recent news about Tim Raines finally being inducted, there seems to be even more excitement this time than there was when Gary Carter and Andre Dawson were inducted, and I started pondering what it means for Expos fans like me to have Raines finally get inducted, and why it seems to mean so much to so many. Here are four theories that I have on what makes this one so special:

    The perspective of time ...

While it is true that social media connects us all more than ever, leading to more stories and accolades on Twitter and assorted media than ever before, I also think that because Raines is proudly entering the Hall as a Montreal Expo, it feels more like a victory and long-overdue celebration for the former organization as a whole, one that fans will take advantage and really enjoy this time around.

One of my favorite quotes from Buddha can be a gut punch, yet so simple and true: “The trouble is, you think you have time”. As we grow older, and if we’re lucky, wiser, we become a little more appreciative of the years that have gone by and don’t take things as much for granted as we used to. Because this was his last year of eligibility, hundreds of Expos and Raines fans will savor the moment more than we may have if this had happened in a previous year. It’s quite possible that this wouldn’t have been as sweet if it had happened sometime in the last 10 years, before it could really be appreciated.

    Closure ...

Baseball is a team sport, but certainly a business at the end of the day, and not built for organized farewells. Players can be here one day and gone the next. So, as with any baseball franchise, we as fans never had the chance to say our proper goodbye to this team we loved growing up. Gary Carter was traded to the Mets in 1984, Andre Dawson signed the infamous blank contract to play for the Cubs in 1987 (and save his artificial turf battered knees in the process).

Tim Raines was traded after the 1990 season and went on to play for five more teams before finally getting a World Series ring with the Yankees, and my beloved Tim Wallach was traded to the Dodgers when they gave him a Christmas gift and sent him home on December 24, 1992. As fans, we are left with memories, but no real sense of closure, as it often is in life.

Sure, there were tearful farewells and tributes when it was announced the franchise was moving to Washington, and that devastating last game at Olympic Stadium on September 29, 2004. Personally speaking, even though my focus in life had shifted elsewhere years earlier, I had still made the 13-hour drive to Montreal in late September 2002 for what we believed at the time would be the final Expos home game, but the Expos I had loved during the 80’s were long gone by that point, and I don’t remember any real feelings of celebration … just a sad sense of loss. There was never time for a proper goodbye, as it often is in life.

    A little help from his friends ...

You’ve all heard by now about Jonah Keri campaign to get the word out to writers about getting Raines elected in his final year, which is another uniquely wonderful party of the story. In the spring of 2014, around the time I was home healing from illness and re-discovered my love of the game, Jonah Keri published his exceptional book on the Expos, “Up, Up and Away”. I quickly learned through his wonderful writing that we shared a similar love for this team in our youth, though he had the privilege of living in Montreal and getting to see them in person. It was because of Jonah’s book I became acquainted with writers and other true baseball fans who loved the Expos growing up and were still hopeful for their return. It was fun to learn that my adolescent love of the Expos, which had eventually led me to back to life as an adult Dodgers fan, was shared by others, and then some.

Look what one man’s passion for a team and the game can do, and did. If Raines had gotten in after only a couple of years of eligibility, Jonah’s story may never have made into the soon to be closed forever Expos history books. Raines certainly got in on his own merit, but being a good guy with friends willing to advocate on his behalf sure helped him attain his dream. Kindness and character won out in the end, as it often is in life.

   Nostalgia ...

I’ve read a lot fantastic stories in the last day and a half since Raines’ induction was announced, many of them from fans/writers around my age or older, in whom this news is bringing back waves of emotion and memories from the “glory days” of Montreal baseball in the 1980’s. The most emotional moment for me was a short tweet from former Expos play-by-play announcer, Dave Van Horne (now with the Marlins). Dave was the English language voice of the Expos during those years, and was there to watch Raines, Dawson and Carter begin their Hall of Fame careers. The tweet read simply “It was a joy watching you play. It was exciting time, alongside Hawk and The Kid. I’m so proud of you”. Simple and heartfelt, spoken with deep pride.

Sure, Raines’ election should have happened sooner because his performance speaks for itself, but if this had happened at any point during the last nine years, would we be as appreciative, and would we be as ready to say goodbye to the Expos of our youth as we are now?

If it is indeed true that good things come to those who wait, Raines’ and the fans’ patience is finally being rewarded with the grand celebration in Cooperstown that the team of the 80’s deserved and never got. Maybe, just maybe, the celebration will seem that much sweeter because of how long Raines waited, how hard Keri and others campaigned for him, and because the time now seems right for us fans to embrace the nostalgia and give the team its rightful celebration.

The crowd in Cooperstown in July will no doubt be loud, boisterous and proud – full of “big kids” revisiting one last chance to celebrate the team that was such a big part of our youth. One last hurrah for the team we all knew as “Nos Amours” (Our Loves) celebrating the career of one of the men proudest to wear its uniform.

If there is never another MLB team in Montreal, Tim Raines could very well be the last of the original “Expos” to be inducted, a final hurrah for those of us who lived and breathed with the team way back when, and owned our tricolored caps and jerseys. So, sure, Raines deserved to have this happen sooner, but maybe, just maybe, it happened at exactly the right time, just when it was meant to be.

As it often is in life.