Sights and Sounds of Spring Training
Jupiter, Fla. — I just get inside the spring-training grounds of the Miami Marlins Thursday and this familiar face walks by me, looking ultra-slim. He looks small.
I take a second look and it’s No. 20 Barry Bonds, the Marlins hitting coach, looking more like the Pittsburgh Pirate Barry Bonds rather than the San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds. This Bonds doesn’t have the literally big head he had with the Giants when he apparently was rumoured to be on performance-enhancing drugs. His head was too big, period.
If that scene wasn’t a turn-header, then so was the aging Ichiro trotting into the clubhouse in what will likely be his last major-league season, assuming he gets the 65 hits necessary to reach the 3,000 plateau.
Then there was Expos ancient homme Andre Dawson riding on the passenger side of a golf cart with driver Jack McKeon, who was sporting his large, trademark stogie. The two gentlemen happen to be called special assistants to the president of the Marlins. In this case, the president is David Samson, the former president of the Expos.
The Marlins have become the second version of the Expos with so many former Expos’ employees that it’s hard to keep track. Samson, the former Expos’ president, has been with the Marlins for years as owner Jeffrey Loria’s son-in-law. Loria, of course, ran the Expos before taking over the Marlins. Former Expos executives Claude Delorme and Michel Bussiere have graced the high-end circle of the Marlins’ front office for years. There are two many, former Expos’ employees with the Marlins to list them here.
Assistant trainer Mike Kozak and equipment manager John Silverman, who spent decades with the Expos, have also spent years with the Marlins. Ditto for J.P. Loyello of Ottawa, who first hooked up with the Ottawa Lynx Triple-A team as a media-relations executive before taking over similar duties with the Expos when Rich Griffin left for a writing job with the Toronto Star. Loyello is currently the Marlins’ senior vice-president of communications and broadcasting.
This year, former Expos players Tim Wallach and Brian Schneider became Marlins’ coaches for the first time and Reid Cornelius is in his sixth season as the Marlins bullpen coach. Wallach is bench coach for former Dodgers skipper Don Mattingly and Schneider is the catching coach.
Cornelius, as you might remember, signed a letter of intent to play at Mississippi State University but chose to sign with the Expos back in the 1990’s and while his big-league career was short, he recalls the highlight of being an Expo.
“It would have to be making the Expos in 1995 and playing for Felipe Alou,’’ Cornelius said before game time yesterday. “It was great playing with guys like Pedro Martinez, Cliff Floyd and Moises Alou. “I remember going to spring training with the Expos at old Municipal Stadium and here I am still in the area. I come from Alabama originally but my wife and my family live in Palm Beach Gardens, just south of here.’’
As I ambled over to see Dawson behind the home-plate screen, he’s chatting up Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez. I squeeze in a few questions, first asking him if he has talked recently his old Expos buddy Tim Raines.
“Talked to him a couple of weeks ago,’’ Dawson said.
“Too bad he didn’t get into Cooperstown this year, eh?” I said to Hawk.
“Yes, it was too bad but I told him he should get in next year,” Dawson said.
Of course, Dawson, who is in Cooperstown himself with an Expos’ hat, will be there to see him being inducted.
“I wouldn’t miss that in the world,” Dawson said.
As for baseball’s possible return to Montreal, Dawson said, “If it happens, it would be tremendous. Canada needs another team. One’s not enough. The fans in Montreal are hungry for baseball. Things have been put into motion for baseball to go back there.”
As I leave to watch the game, a guy in a Blue Jays’ jersey calls me over and asks me about my Toronto Maple Leafs’ baseball cap.
“Is that from Christie Pits or is it from Maple Leaf Stadium,” the guy asks with a smile on his face.
“From Christie Pits,” I said.
Then he proceeded to tell me that he was waiting and hoping that Marlins superstar Giancarlo Stanton would show up so that he would sign some memorabilia. The autograph seeker works for the Blue Jays on game days and he preferred not to have his name publicized.
Just another fun day at the ballpark.