Expos faithful pack buses to see Tim Raines inducted to Baseball Hall of Fame
Left-fielder asked to be honoured as an Expo — even 13 years after the franchise left Montreal
As Tim Raines was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame today, he wasn't celebrating alone.
His wife, Shannon, and two young daughters, Ava and Amelie, were there. And so was Dave Van Horne, the longtime voice of the Montreal Expos, where Raines got his start.
And a whole bunch of Expos fans came down from Montreal to watch him be honoured.
Four buses full of people left Montreal this morning at around 6:45 a.m. to make the five-hour drive to Cooperstown, N.Y., as Raines finally takes his place among baseball's greats.
The fans cheered "Let's go Expos!" as they waited for the buses to leave and resumed their chant when they arrived in Cooperstown this afternoon.
The trip is organized by Expos Nation, a non-profit organization that brings fans of Nos Amours together, even 13 years after the franchise left Montreal. Two years ago, it organized a similar trip to celebrate Pedro Martinez, who pitched for the Expos before joining the Boston Red Sox.
Raines is the third Expos player named to the Hall of Fame, joining the late Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.
But according to Annakin Slayd, hip-hop artist and co-director of Expos Nation, there is a key difference between Raines and the other two Expos.
Thanks for the support, Montreal. See you guys there. Merci. https://t.co/k4U9nbcZhu— @TimRaines30
The Hall of Fame decides which team a player represents when they are inducted. Carter and Dawson both publicly stated that they wanted to represent different teams — the New York Mets and Chicago Cubs respectively. The Hall denied their requests and inducted them as Expos.
Although the Expos don't exist anymore, and although he played for a total of six teams in his career, Raines's intention was always to go in as an Expo.
"He's been full on embracing himself as an Expo, and I think the fans are really, really appreciating that," Slayd said.
A long time coming
Raines was elected to the Hall of Fame in January, on his 10th and final try.
He played 13 of his 23 pro seasons in Montreal. He was named on 86 per cent of the 442 ballots cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America after narrowly missing the requisite 75 per cent threshold last year (69.8 per cent).
Raines has been in Montreal a few times since he was elected, and had nothing but kind things to say about Expos fans.
"I embraced the way the fans approached and cheered for the game," he said recently. "It inspired me as a player and I knew that every day I stepped out on the field, the fans were going to be out there to cheer their hearts out."
After four years of baseball fans packing the Olympic Stadium for Blue Jays exhibition games, Slayd said he believes the message has been sent loud and clear — Montreal is a baseball city.
The contingent of fans in Cooperstown this weekend certainly help cement that notion.
"We want people to wear their Expos caps, and we want those buses to roll in with all those Expos fans pouring out, and we want all the Hall of Famers and all the executives from Major League Baseball to see that we're very serious about this," he said.
"We're in this for the long haul."
'Trip of a lifetime'
Linda Walker came all the way from Saskatoon to take the bus. To her, "Tim Raines is the best player to ever wear an Expos uniform."
Walker saw the Expos live once in Montreal before she had to move west, but she brought her enthusiasm for the team with her.
"Every time they came on the TV, I was glued in front of it," she said. "Every time he took off for a steal, you just held your breath and waited to see if he was going to get in safely, which he did most of the time."
"I watched that very last game on TV and when everybody stood up in the seventh inning, I stood up and cried, same as everybody else, as if I was at the Big O," Walker said.
The opportunity to see her favourite player once more is "the trip of a lifetime," and this time around, "I was not going to sit in Saskatoon and wait for sports to come on to see it happen" she said as the bus began to clap for her.
The Goren family's love of the Expos is a family affair. Mark Goren, a lifelong fan, is taking the trip to Cooperstown with his son Sean, 13, and nephew Noah, 21. All three have had the chance to see the team play live, even if, for Sean, that meant being nine months old.
"It was a good one," the 13-year-old said, laughing.
Mark Goren says he's been a baseball fan his whole life and that, for his son, "I've tried to give that to him through osmosis and I think today is a big part of that," he said. "I want him to see and feel what it means to be an Expos fan."
Raines was "one of the most electric players I've seen pass through Montreal and that's saying a lot, given the talent that has been here," Goren added.
Noah Goren says the family tries to go to every Expos event there is, with the hopes of keeping the flame alive and possibly reigniting the team's presence in the city. If that's the case, he says he'll either be working for the Expos or he'll have season tickets.
"There's not a lot of people that I know that, number one, are still fans of a team that no longer exists and, number two, that rally around a team like we do," he said.
Arlene Rust, a lifelong Expos fan, is one of the 190 Montrealers on the four buses. This is her second time going to Cooperstown for the induction of a former Expo. Rust also made the trip in 2015, when Pedro Martinez was honoured.
But the fact Raines always said he'd go as an Expo makes this trip extra special to Rust.
"It's extremely important," she said. "The Expos need to come back to Montreal and this is a good way to honour the team that we once had."
For Anthony Giambagno, it's not a question of whether the Expos will come back or not: "Are you kidding me? That's a definite thing. It's just a question of time," he said on the bus.
"I'm here for the Big Rock, I'm here for the Rock, Timmy, and the return of the Expos to Montréal," he said, putting the French emphasis on the name of his city.
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