The “Big O” Was Electric as Baseball Took Center Stage
MONTREAL — A 50-ish man with long hair was walking through the concourse with a beautiful Expos’ buttoned-down shirt with Rose 14 on the back in honour of the guy who played part of the 1984 season here before heading to the Reds.
Down on the field, former Expos/Red Sox great Pedro Martinez ducked into the dugout and stayed there protected from the fans by the overhead hanging of the dugout. If he had stepped out, cries of Pedro, Pedro would have besieged him and he would have been hounded for autographs.
As he stood there, Martinez was greetly warmly by former Expos trainer Ron McClain, who has undergone a major slimming-down program since I last saw him in 1994. As I approached to introduce myself and get a photo, Martinez said, “My pleasure,” as he stuck out his right hand.
Those scenarios are aplenty at the Big O today and there were aplenty last night as more than 106,000 fans were expected to watch the Blue Jays and Red Sox engage in a two-game exhibition series, a great show of support from Montreal fans eager to see baseball return to this city.
On the field, Red Sox superstar David Ortiz was greeted by numerous cries of Papi, Papi as he drove a few batting-practice pitches over the right-field fence. In what is intended to be his final season, Ortiz still looks pretty good at the plate.
“David is such a great player, who rises to the occasion,” Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski was saying at a press conference in Salon Rouge about Ortiz. “He’s one of the best in the game and he has a magnetic personality.”
Dombrowski was fielding questions about his team but also about the Expos in the days when he was team general manager. As he went back and forth in talking about different eras, Dombrowski was asked how tough it was to trade superstar Tim Raines in 1990 when he was one of the game’s best players in the 1980s.
“It was the right time to trade him,” Dombrowski said. “He wasn’t at the top of his game. “He wasn’t playing like he had been playing earlier in his career.”
As he did with me a week ago on the phone, Dombrowski talked about his Montreal days, alluding to former owner Charles Bronfman as a “legend.”
“Charles treated everybody with class,” Dombrowski said.
Over in another corner near the home-team dugout, Blue Jays television Sportsnet announcer Buck Martinez walked by and one fan shouted, “Buck, you’re the best.” Martinez replied, “I try to do my best.”
Before Friday’s game, the lights were dimmed to near darkness as announcer Marc Griffin introduced Expos greats Ellis Valentine, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro, Marquis Grissom, Raines and Martinez. The admiration was pushed up a notch for Raines and Martinez, as both were saluted with video clips on the scoreboard.
Former Expos’ manager and jack-of-all-trades Jim Fanning was paid a tribute before today’s game along with funny man Serge Touchette of Le Journal de Montréal, who was being presented with the Jack Graney Award for meritorious baseball writing by the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame.
All part of a wonderful weekend.