To be honest, I simply didn’t know what to expect when I received an invitation to join several alumni from the Montreal Expos baseball team in a charity bowling event in Cooperstown, New York. It’s induction weekend, and Vladimir Guerrero is one of the inductees, and he’ll be in the Hall of Fame as an Expo.
But hey, I’m game for just about anything! I’m retired! Let’s have some fun!
But wait! The last time I went bowling was before my father died–which was in 1987. I was once a fairly good bowler–average of 145-150. Not bad. But 31 years ago? That was also before I had a knee replacement, before I’d played years of competitive tennis, and, frankly, before I’d aged, well, 31 years.
What had I gotten myself into?
The day before, the organizer contacted me, saying that I could bring a couple of friends, so I invited two of my tennis buddies, Donna and Gloria (who, by the way, are a formidable doubles combination on my 55-and-over United States Tennis Association team), to go with me.
During the drive to Cooperstown, I explained to non-baseball fan Gloria the whole story about the Expos, the rise and fall of baseball in Montreal, and about what happens during induction weekend. Donna, who does follow baseball somewhat, had an idea beforehand.
We grabbed a couple of pieces of pizza in downtown Cooperstown and headed over to the Clark Sports Complex, a gorgeous multi-sports arena set in front of the field where the formal induction takes place.
We were the first to arrive, to survey the scene. We had to find appropriate bowling balls and shoes to attack those pesky pins at the end of the lanes. We were ready, we thought, for this.
Then, former Expos and Red Sox pitcher Bill Lee arrived. When I wrote my novel, Empty Seats, I decided to insert a cameo appearance by Bill within the pages. I had sent a copy of the novel to him at his Vermont home, but never heard back from him as to whether or not he objected to the way I introduced him into the book. His wife Diana was also at the Cooperstown event, and I explained the entire story to her. She was happy with my explanation, and I was excited by having had the opportunity to meet both of them.
We were on Team Curtis Pride. What an incredible human being, as well as baseball player, he is! Curtis was born almost completely deaf, and yet, he was talented enough, and willing to work hard enough, to become the first deaf player to become a Major League ballplayer. He spent ten years in the minor leagues and was ready to quit. However, his father urged him to continue, which he did. Then, when he had his first hit as a member of the Expos, the crowd gave him a five-minute-long standing ovation. He was unable to hear the crowd, but he could feel the vibrations and saw the crowd standing on its feet for that length of time. He’s now the coach of the Gallaudet University baseball team.
Curtis has a great sense of humor and reads lips, so we were able to kid around with him (for example, when I couldn’t convert easy spares because I’m not a great bowler, and when Donna bowled a gutter ball on her first roll and then hit a strike on the second one, meaning she got a spare).
We had two other Expos fans on our team, and they were welcoming and very funny. We bowled everything from gutter balls to strikes, and every time one of us finished bowling, high fives were flying all around.
On the adjacent team was Claude Raymond, former Expos pitcher and radio announcer for the team. Incredibly nice guy and a great bowler! Most of his team came from Montreal, and they conversed in French most of the time. Although admittedly rusty, I do speak French and understand it well. Claude and his fellow announcer developed a full realm of French terms to use to describe baseball while on the air.
The energy, enthusiasm and commitment these fans and alumni have to their Expos came through everything they did last night, whether it was bowling, high-fiving, interacting with people they didn’t know or long-time friends.
To me, this was the essence of why I love baseball. Whenever I go to a baseball game, I make new friends, even if they’re people who support the opposite team than the one I’m standing behind. Baseball speaks a language that brings people together on an afternoon or evening at the ballpark.
Those guys had no idea who the three ladies from New York’s Capital District were, and yet, we had a lot of fun. They welcomed us with open arms, knowing that we, too, love baseball.
At a sports complex in Cooperstown, participating in something I hadn’t done in more than three decades, I made new friends and lasting memories. Baseball rarely fails me. Last night was no exception.
My only regret was that I couldn’t go back to Cooperstown today to enjoy more induction weekend festivities with my new-found friends. I hope I’ll see them again. Soon.
A bientôt, mes amis.