BAD NAT-ITUDE?

Some Mon­treal fans wish D.C. would leave their Ex­pos alone when it comes to hon­ours

Montreal Gazette - - SPORTS - DAN STEINBERG

Tim Raines wore an Ex­pos jersey on the field as the Na­tion­als hon­oured him this week, and while it was nice and sweet and harm­less, it was also an in­cred­i­bly weird sight: a big-league team hon­our­ing a guy who never wore its uni­form, as he stood there in a dif­fer­ent set of threads. Ditto for see­ing an­other Ex­pos logo added to the right-field fa­cade at Nats Park, next to Raines’ name, as he en­tered the fran­chise’s Ring of Honor. The fur­ther we are from 2005, the wack­ier those lo­gos start to look.

But in Mon­treal — the city where Raines starred for the first 12 years of his Hall of Fame ca­reer — the Mon­day evening cer­e­mony was won­derf ... well, it was glo­riou ... well, it was mag­ica ... well, let’s just ask an Ex­pos fan.

“I’ll put it to you as sim­ple as I can,” said Perry Gian­nias, who es­ti­mated his Ex­pos fan­dom at about a 15 or 25 on a scale of 1 to 10. “It’s like you be­ing friends with a guy who’s now sleep­ing with your ex. And now they in­vite you to the wed­ding, and your kids are ush­ers or brides­maids or flower girls. It doesn’t work like that. It’s very dif­fi­cult to di­gest.”

Wash­ing­ton’s tan­gled dance with its rouge blanc et bleu past is old news, as is the weird­ness of these cer­e­monies. The Wash­ing­ton Post’s Dave Sheinin al­ready wrote about the odd­ity back in 2010, when An­dre Daw­son had his name added to the ring. Gary Carter’s is up there, too, and a fourth Expo might ar­rive next year, when Vladimir Guer­rero is ex­pected to join the Hall of Fame, mak­ing him el­i­gi­ble for the Nats Park Ring of Honor.

(The qual­i­fi­ca­tions, which have been ad­justed at least once and were de­vel­oped in con­junc­tion with the Base­ball Hall of Fame, say that mem­bers must ei­ther be hall of famers who logged “sig­nif­i­cant years” with the Nats, Senators, Home­stead Grays or Ex­pos; or must have “made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the game of base­ball in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.”

Pe­dro Martinez, who won the fran­chise’s first Cy Young Award dur­ing his four sea­sons in Mon­treal, is not in. Ivan (Pudge) Ro­driguez, who played 155 games over two sea­sons in Wash­ing­ton, en­tered Mon­day.

As you prob­a­bly know, there is a fierce seg­ment of Wash­ing­to­ni­ans put off by any nod to Mon­treal. They cared about Ryan Zim­mer­man’s chase of Frank Howard’s D.C. home run record, but dis­dained Zim­mer­man’s chase of Daw­son’s fran­chise mark. They hate those graph­ics com­par­ing these Nats to suc­cess­ful Ex­pos teams of yore. And they sure don’t want more Ex­pos lo­gos splashed on Wash­ing­ton’s Ring of Honor.

“You ei­ther get the Senators or the Ex­pos. You don’t get both.”

— IsaacSalazar (@IsaacSalazar) Aug. 25, 2017

But what I didn’t re­al­ize is that a fierce seg­ment of Mon­treal fans feels ex­actly the same way! Per­haps no one un­der­stands Wash­ing­ton’s frus­tra­tion with all of this bet­ter than Mon­treal, and vice versa.

“It sort of rubs me the wrong way; I’m not gonna lie,” said An­nakin Slayd, a 39-year-old mu­si­cian who has recorded songs about the Ex­pos, in­clud­ing one in hon­our of Raines’ Coop­er­stown mo­ment. “From our point of view, we feel like our his­tory is be­ing stolen from us. And I get how in Wash­ing­ton they’re like, ‘What’s the big deal? We’ll just hon­our Tim. It’ll be nice; his fam­ily will en­joy it.’ But for us there’s a lit­tle more depth to it ...”

“I get that the fran­chise is linked, but it’s not at all the same for us,” Slayd went on. “For us, the Ex­pos are paused, and they’re go­ing to re­sume very soon. So we’re like, ‘Ryan Zim­mer­man, who’s that? How can Ryan Zim­mer­man pass An­dre Daw­son?’ That doesn’t make any sense to us.

“Maybe it does based on a tech­ni­cal­ity, but we don’t fol­low sports based on tech­ni­cal­i­ties. We fol­low sports based on what’s in our hearts, what’s in our mem­o­ries, the things we cher­ish. In the same way peo­ple there don’t cher­ish Mon­treal base­ball and its his­tory, we don’t cher­ish Wash­ing­ton base­ball and its his­tory. So let’s just make it a clean break: You guys have your team and your his­tory, and we have our team and our his­tory.”

“Why are they push­ing a his­tory that didn’t be­long to them? It makes no sense,” added Gian­nias, who or­ga­nizes an an­nual Ex­pos Fest to ben­e­fit the Mon­treal Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal. “I don’t blame the fans of the Na­tion­als; I don’t blame Tim Raines, for sure. If some­one wants to hon­our you, who are you to say no? It’s just the whole no­tion. The team hasn’t been around for a long time, and they need to find a his­tory? Cre­ate your own his­tory. You have Ryan Zim­mer­man, you have Bryce Harper. The Ex­pos are cer­tainly not a part of that, no mat­ter what MLB says. Ev­ery­body knows that’s not the case, and the best part is the fans of Wash­ing­ton know that’s not the case.”

Now to de­fend the Nats: They don’t go out of their way to claim the Ex­pos. They don’t wear Mon­treal throw­backs or push Ex­pos mer­chan­dise. It isn’t the front of­fice’s fault that base­ball didn’t treat the club as an ex­pan­sion fran­chise. Once Daw­son was in that ring, it’d be hard to keep Raines out. The ex-play­ers them­selves seem thrilled by the hon­our. There’s not a shred of ma­li­cious in­tent. Some Nats fans ac­tu­ally get a kick out of nods to this bi­na­tional his­tory. So only a true heart­less crank would write hun­dreds of words about a nice and sweet and harm­less cer­e­mony. (Guilty!)

“RETWEET to wel­come Pudge and Tim Raines to the #Nats Ring of Honor!”

— Na­tion­als on MASN (@mas­nNa­tion­als) Au­gust 29, 2017

Fur­ther, it isn’t like all Ex­pos fans are riled up.

“There’s a di­ver­sity of opin­ion on this stuff. I think a lot of peo­ple might feel like me: that it’s fine,” said au­thor Jonah Keri, who has lit­er­ally writ­ten the book on the Ex­pos. “I think that these two fran­chises should be con­sid­ered sep­a­rate in gen­eral ... but put your­self in the play­ers’ per­spec­tive. It’s a nice thing to be hon­oured. Maybe it’s not more com­pli­cated than that.”

“We just find it strange,” said Matthew Ross, a host on Mon­treal’s TSN 690 and the founder of Ex­pos Na­tion, a non-profit or­ga­ni­za­tion of fans. “Peo­ple don’t re­ally care. They just want their team back, and that’s the end of the story ... Ev­ery­one here loves Tim Raines, even if they never saw him play here, so they kind of go, ‘Oh, that’s nice, but what­ever.’ I don’t think it’s anger. More in­dif­fer­ence than any­thing.”

The joint fran­chise records, on the other hand — those graph­ics ear­lier this sea­son of Zim­mer­man clos­ing in on Daw­son — an­noy Ross, the same way they an­noy so many hard­core Wash­ing­to­ni­ans.

“That I have more of a vis­ceral re­ac­tion to than the cer­e­mony,” he said. “If Zim­mer­man’s the all­time home run guy, it’s be­cause he’s a Na­tional, not be­cause the Na­tion­als used to be the Ex­pos. The Ex­pos records should just stay in Mon­treal.”

This is all point­less, of course, like so much of ... well, of my pro­fes­sional ca­reer, any­how. The three Ex­pos are al­ready in the Nats Park ring; they aren’t com­ing down. You can just tune out the talk of Ex­pos records if you choose. Raines and his fam­ily got to have a nice time dur­ing his first trip to Wash­ing­ton.

Why even pick at this scab two days later, un­less you’re ac­tively try­ing to make Nats of­fi­cials mad at you, dummy?

Here’s why, I guess: be­cause it turns out that the one group of peo­ple that best un­der­stands the unique tor­ments of D.C. base­ball fa­nat­ics might be Mon­treal base­ball fa­nat­ics.

They’re all trapped in the same con­found­ing con­struct, linked with an­other city they like just fine but have no in­ter­est in be­ing linked with.

Nats fans mostly weren’t Ex­pos fans. Ex­pos fans mostly aren’t Nats fans. But they sure do get each other.

“What con­nec­tion does Wash­ing­ton have to Mon­treal? Ab­so­lutely noth­ing, ” said Gian­nias, who couldn’t stop him­self from watch­ing Mon­day’s cer­e­mony and mar­vel­ling at the small crowd. “The proof is in the pud­ding. The fans of Wash­ing­ton don’t care. If your own fans don’t care about Tim Raines, An­dre Daw­son and Gary Carter, why should we care about you hon­our­ing them? I get so revved up over this sub­ject.”

So this, too, is kind of sweet in the end. Be­cause so many Nats fans feel ex­actly the same way.

From our point of view, we feel like our his­tory is be­ing stolen from us. And I get how in Wash­ing­ton they’re like, ‘What’s the big deal?’

(Dear Nats front-of­fice of­fi­cials: I know you are just be­ing nice! I still love you all. See you back here next year, when we have the same dis­cus­sion about Guer­rero.)

TONI L. SANDYS/WASH­ING­TON POST

Ivan Ro­driguez, left, and Tim Raines, were hon­oured by the Na­tion­als on Mon­day night, but the his­tory of the fran­chise complicates mat­ters.

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