The en­dur­ing reign of Tim Raines

Ex­pos out­fielder was a star who con­nected the dots

National Post (National Edition) - - SPORTS - STU COWAN scowan@post­media.com twit­ter.com/StuCowan1

Fin Mon­treal ire-wagon base­ball.

That’s how Michael Far­ber the Ex­pos of the 1980s — and it all started with Tim Raines.

Back in those days you wanted to make sure to be in your seats at Olympic Sta­dium be­fore the bot­tom of the first in­ning when Raines was bat­ting lead­off for the Ex­pos. There was a sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion and ex­cite­ment, wait­ing and hop­ing Raines would get on base. When he did, you knew ex­actly what was com­ing next.

The pitcher would throw over to first base at least once, try­ing to keep Raines close to the bag while child­like draw­ings of a chicken would pop up each time on the black-and-white score­board. Then Raines would take off for sec­ond to steal one of the 808 bases in his Hall of Fame ca­reer.

Mon­treal­ers fell in love with Raines and that love af­fair con­tin­ues to this day — even though the Ex­pos no longer ex­ist.

On Sun­day, four bus­loads of Ex­posNa­tion fans will hit the road at 6:30 a.m. in Mon­treal en route to Coop­er­stown, N.Y., to wit­ness Raines’s in­duc­tion into the Base­ball Hall of Fame.

“He played with such flair,” said Far­ber, who cov­ered the Ex­pos as a sports colum­nist for the Mon­treal Gazette dur­ing the 1980s be­fore join­ing Sports Il­lus­trated. “If you look at the way the Cana­di­ens played hockey in the ’70s, that’s how the Ex­pos played base­ball in the early ’80s.

“This was a team that had great speed and played with great dar­ing, and they were an ex­cit­ing base­ball team in the way that the Cana­di­ens had been an ex­cit­ing hockey team,” Far­ber added.

“I al­ways thought of it as firewagon base­ball and Raines was part of it. Peo­ple here loved the stolen base, they loved Raines go­ing first to third, they loved Raines steal­ing third base. This was the great­est sports show in town.”

Dur­ing a Hall of Fame con­fer­ence call last week, Raines was asked about the four bus­loads of Mon­treal fans headed to Coop­er­stown.

“It means a lot ... be­cause Mon­treal was the big­gest part of my ca­reer,” Raines said. “I mean, it’s where I started. It’s where I grew up as a ma­jor-league player. It’s where I lived for 12 years and I’m look­ing for­ward to it. I’m look­ing for­ward to see­ing the fans. I wasn’t aware of how many buses. I heard that there was go­ing to be some buses.”

Raines will be­come only the third player — and pos­si­bly the last — to be in­ducted into Hall of Fame wear­ing an Ex­pos cap, join­ing Gary Carter and An­dre Daw­son.

For­mer Expo Vladimir Guer­rero will prob­a­bly be in­ducted into the Hall of Fame, but he could go in wear­ing a Los An­ge­les An­gels cap. There is only one for­mer Expo still play­ing in the ma­jors and 44-yearold pitcher Bar­tolo Colon’s ca­reer is com­ing to an end with the Min­nesota Twins. With all that in mind, Far­ber be­lieves Raines has be­come the most im­por­tant player in Ex­pos his­tory.

“He played with the first Ex­pos star, Rusty Staub,” Far­ber said. “And then when Raines came back (to Mon­treal in 2001 af­ter play­ing else­where for 10 years) he played with the last Ex­pos star, Guer­rero.

“So if you look at a time­line of the Ex­pos, Tim Raines is the con­nec­tive tis­sue in the his­tory of the fran­chise. I think that makes him so ter­ri­bly im­por­tant, even more im­por­tant than Carter and more im­por­tant than Daw­son.

“Be­cause for me, Tim Raines is the Expo that con­nects all the dots.”

In his new book, Rock Solid: My Life in Base­ball’s Fast Lane, Raines de­scribed what it meant to him to be an Expo.

“I never could have imag­ined the sat­is­fac­tion and joy I de­rived from my 12 sea­sons in Mon­treal, a time dur­ing which the Ex­pos proved they could com­pete with the best teams in base­ball,” Raines wrote. “When the time came to de­cide which logo would ap­pear on my Hall of Fame plaque, the choice was easy. “I will al­ways be an Expo.” There will be a lot of fans wear­ing Ex­pos caps Sun­day in Coop­er­stown. Maybe they’ll even sing the Happy Wan­derer like they used to at the Big O. Val-deri, Val-dera, Val-deri, Val-dera-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha A last­ing mem­ory of when firewagon base­ball was played in Mon­treal. Tim Raines, rear, will be in­ducted into the Base­ball of Hall of Fame on Sun­day. Four bus­loads of Ex­pos fans will be on hand.

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