Montreal pictures

Years ago, Standard Oil of New Jersey spent a lot of money coming up with a new name that they’d be able to use everywhere in the world. That name was Exxon. They’re still using the old name in Canada (and a lot of other countries besides)…

The spaceship that is Olympic Stadium…


Expos at bat…

For some reason, the top and bottom line (season stats and lineup) are in English, and the middle line (stats for “ce match”) is in French, e.g. “CC” is French for “HR”…

The final line…

A milestone win…

From Poutine to Les Expos

O, Canada! I am so ready to stand on guard for thee. You’ve won me over, with your rolling hills, your Euro-style, your wide vistas, your old buildings, your two-dollar coins, and, yes–I mean oui–even your French.

Le Stade Olimpique, on the other hand. . . . Well, let’s just say if all baseball were played in such conditions, Jim and I might be on a trip to see 11 team handball games instead. Oh, it’s not as bad as it could be. Some good points: The Metro lets you off right under the stadium. Tickets from un homme out front were 10$, or about $.65 U.S. The seat location printed on those tickets was more a suggestion than a condition. The funny yellow seats that looked like they’d been recycled from Tomorrowland’s “Mission to Mars” were actually pretty comfortable. The poutine—which, because I do find myself on occasion eating meat gravy, at Thanksgiving, say, I decided I couldn’t quite bear to pass up—was as advertised. Youppi was slightly less annoying than your average mascot. When an Expo homered, the scoreboard flashed, “CIRCUIT!”

But there were, without a doubt, bad points. The main–all-encompassing, really–bad point was that we were watching baseball indoors. It’s just wrong and deeply unsatisfying to walk out of a pleasant, 25-degree night into an enclosed concrete bowl with a puffy roof. The turf–though more grasslike than the bright green nightmare that serves as the field at Skydome–is still far closer to carpet on the carpet/grass continuum. The outfield walls, though decorated with the retired numbers of Expo greats (Quick quiz: name three. Okay, time’s up. If you said three of Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, or–and this one isn’t really fair–Jackie Robinson, you win!), is still a tall, stadium-blue vinyl cushion thing. And the foul poles, like at Skydome, aren’t poles at all, just two-foot-wide netting painted yellow and strong from the top of the wall to the upper deck–although Stade Olimpique gets bonus points for continuing the foul poles with dotted lines painted across the appropriate part of the façade to the ceiling.

Jim and I were both pleasantly surprised by the size of the crowd. The Dodgers were in town, and quite a few of those in attendance were wearing the blue, but the majority of attendees seemed to be Expos fans. The announced attendance of nearly 8,000 didn’t even seem all that inflated. Jim and I decided just before the first pitch that, being in Montreal, we would allow location to supersede Jim’s regional loyalties, so we cheered for Les Expos. As the team took the field, I learned that Expos third baseman Tony Batista (Who, you may remember from his days in Baltimore, has the silliest batting stance in baseball, sillier even than Craig Counsell. Really. Try it out yourself. Look in the mirror. Imagine the mirror is a pitcher. Take the stance that normal hitter would take, and you’ll see that your outside shoulder is faced towards the pitcher. Now, imagine you’re Tony Batista. Say “Hola, soy Tony Batista.” Take your left foot, the one closest to the pitcher, and step out of the box with it. You’ll notice that you’re now facing the pitcher. Take the bat off your shoulder and hold it with both hands directly in front of you, pointed up, like Ben Kenobi awaiting Darth Vader. Wait for your pitch.) runs out to his position at top speed just like Sammy Sosa. Only, as Batista is an infielder, he has to get moving and get stopped much more quickly. But the crowd loves it nonetheless.

The game itself was a good one for Expos fans–from the third pitch to Brad Wilkerson leading off the bottom of the first, Jose Lima had definitely set his watch to Lima Time. Only, he’d set it to Lima time circa 1999, when his propensity for the “balle de circuit!” forced him out of baseball. He threw “un balle de adios, mon ami” to Wilkerson, and later he served up “un balle de tristesse toujours san fin” to the aforementioned Tony Batista a few innings later. (Remember how silly you looked just now in the mirror? I don’t understand how it works, either.) Miixing it up a bit, Lima tossed the next batter, Juan Rivera, a “balle de Mercy!, merci.” In the sixth, Termel Sledge, who’s only mentioned here because of his great name, singled and scored when Lima threw his last pitch of the ballgame, “un balle de circuit de troix puntos.” The 6-3 lead that gave Les Expos would hold up, making the teams Jim and I are rooting for 5-0 on the trip. That in itself is almost worth our not getting to see Eric Gagne pitch in his homeland.

One last incident from the game deserves mention, and it involves the twice-mentioned Tony Batista. In the 7th, Batista dodged a wild pitch–“un mauvais balle”–that nearly hit his ankles. The next pitch was a fastball that hit him in the helmet. He went down, knocked out. The Dodgers pitcher was instantly ejected, unfairly, in my view, and the trainer and players gathered around Batista. It was scary, but within a minute or so, he was moving around. Then, within seconds of having been out cold, Batista pushed himself to his feet, turned and waved both hands at the cheering crowd, and, shrugging off assistance, sprinted to first. Though I expected him to be replaced in the game for precautionary reasons, he stayed in, and three pitches later, he stole second on the back end of a double steal. Surely he’s a fan favorite in Montreal.

Now we’re rolling up and down the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire, on our way to Boston. When I turned the computer on, I misread the wireless network symbol and thought for a second that perhaps all of Vermont was an open wireless network. Sadly, no.

The examination at the border crossing back into the U.S. was a bit more strenuous than the one we endured to enter Canada (Here is the entry one in its entirety, as a one-act play: Customs guy (bored almost to the point of rudeness: You bringing anything in? Me: Nope. Fin.). The lady looked in our trunk, asked how we knew each other–explaining CRC set us behind schedule about two hours—and asked twice if we were bringing anything in. Later, we took a pleasant ferry ride across lovely Lake Champlain, and, minutes after I had expressed to Jim my general distaste for giant Recreational Vehicles like the pink one adjacent to us on the ferry, which was towing an SUV behind it–and seconds after I expressed my fears that it would smash our car attempting to drive off the ferry–said RV, in driving off the ferry, banged its long-ass back end into our right rear panel. Fortunately for us, only the trailer carrying the SUV suffered damage, a smashed taillight. Our Chevy Impala, apparently “increveable,” was unmarked. A ways down the road, as we passed the RV, I was able to shake my fist. I doubt the driver saw me, though, from his perch forty feet above the roadway.

On to Boston. Johnny Damon, we come for thee!

Original comments…

Jim’s mom: Mom says hi. Drive carefully and eat your vegetables.

Toby: Levi, If you didn’t get a picture of Lima’s wife, don’t bother coming back! Are you trying to say the tickets were 65 cents or is there a typo somewhere?

thatbob: That’s just Levi trying to make some of his patented “exchange rate” humor. It probably would have made a little more sense about 4 years ago, you know, before the US dollar went all to hell.

Eric Ritter: Poutine… mmmmm.

stacey: so what exactly is poutine?

Dan: When I went to Olympic Stadium in 1989, I thought it was a tremendous dump. Although I bet it was a terrific place to see the opening ceremonies of the ’76 Games.

sandor: Poutine is something like fries swimming in meat gravy. It’s much grosser than a pretty name like “poutine” would lead you to believe.

I’m curious to know if either Canadian ballpark served donairs. During our recent trip to Canadia, we were confused as all get-out to see them advertised at the same level and intesity as hamburgers and hot dogs, not having ever heard the term before. Turns out a donair is pretty much the exact same thing as a gyros. I guess they hate Greeks in Canadia, and needed to come up with something sufficiently anglo as a replacement.

stacey: It’s now 3:16 here in Chicago. I’ve just turned off WPRB after enjoying the radio show . . . but I’m surprised there’s not a new post yet. Isn’t Maura a wireless zone?

stacey: sorry to keep posting about the future and the past . . . but this reminded me of the bunny at the swing of the quad cities game:

Jason: The big question is: Did Jim eat any poutine?

Eric Ritter: Poutine is the national food of the part of Quebec that doesn’t object to it being the national food.

I loooove Poutine. But I understand the point of view of people who don’t want it to be the national food. It’s extremely yummy (to me, an avowed fan of fatty foods), but doesn’t achieve the culinary brilliance of certain other proletarian fatty foods, such as Southern fried chicken (of which I am the grandmaster, by the way. And which is much less fatty than you think.) A francophone nation can do better.


Toronto pictures

Parking ticket from our hotel, once we found the parking entrance…

Pro-Red Sox signs in the windows of the Skydome Hotel…

Ace the Blue Jay leading the Jays cheerleaders…

Levi noticed that this isn’t a foul pole, it’s foul netting. Also, in the background, you can see some of the Skydome’s neon…

Johnny Damon at the plate…

Orlando Hudson alertly pointing out Johnny Damon on second base…

Yes, there are other people in the world with Devil Rays caps, and one of them sat in front of Jim…

The final line…

A Change of Sox

Toronto feels far more like London that I would have expected. When I was here two years ago for a conference, I didn’t notice that because I didn’t get out of the immediate downtown area much. We made it into town early enough yesterday, though, for me and Jim to wander around a bit through what seemed to be kind of the Belmont area of Toronto. The businesses all keep their doors open, like in London, and the crowd–young, stylish, multi-ethnic–feels much more international than a similar crowd in, say, Chicago, would. The weather was beautiful, as it was on my previous trip, leading me to suspect that perhaps the weather is always great in Canada, but is painted otherwise by Canadians in order to keep Yankee fans from retiring there en masse. When I went for a short run this morning, I noticed another similarity to London: it’s hard to run on the sidewalks in Toronto because there are too many pedestrians. I guess it was good practice for the slow-runner-dodging required in the marathon–although this was like the marathon would be if, say, everybody but me decided to walk the race, except for a couple of people on bicycles.

But on to the game: Red Sox Nation descended on Skydome in force last night. I suppose we shouldn’t have been surprised–the combination of Fenway’s astronomical prices and limited seating must make an eight-hour drive to Toronto seem reasonable. So when Jim and I reached the ballpark, delivered by the TTC subway, there were a couple thousand Sox fans waiting outside the gates. Various psychologists and counselors were making a fortune wandering the line and taking appointments from long-suffering Sox fans. Every once in a while, a Blue Jays fan would wander by, seeming out of place. The atmosphere wasn’t quite as overwhelmingly Sox-positive as the pro-Cubs crowd at Milwaukee creates, but I have no doubt the audience was more than half Sox fans.

From the outside, Skydome looks less like a ballpark than a convention center or hotel or parking garage, its utterly nondescript concrete exterior looking out of place topped by the retractable roof, which was rolled back for the game last night. Inside, the décor—concrete, neon, pastel railings, futuristic logos on the food stands–reminded us a bit of EPCOT Center, which I posit is the most-quickly out-of-date design in the history of the universe. The only way Skydome could have seemed more mid-80s would have been if the ushers had been decked out in Members Only windbreakers.

Our seats, way down the right-field line, 21 rows up, are seats that are pushed back out of service when Toronto’s Argonauts play arena football, which I hear resembles hockey or curling or something. Remembering the worshipful articles about the glories of Skydome that appeared in every U.S. newspaper when the Jays were good in the early 90s, I went in search of interesting vegetarian food, and I found some. There was sushi stand, advertising sushi “Made while you wait.” In Canada, “Made while you wait,” must mean, “Taken from a stack of containers of pre-made vegetarian sushi while you wait.” It wasn’t the best sushi I’ve ever had, but it was, hands-down, the best sushi I’ve ever had at a ballpark. I followed it up with a vegetarian burger, which, like most of its ilk, was predictably bland. Jim had pizza and a bag of popcorn so large that the usher made him go buy it a ticket.

From the start of the game, the Sox fans dominated the proceedings with their cheering. Even the many children seemed to pay attention to the game. Tim Wakefield threw his “balle de papillon” past several Blue Jays early on, although one pitch which failed to knuckle—making it a 120-kilometre-per-hour fastball—was deposited by Orlando Hudson in the right-field seats. But an inning later, Doug Mirabelli knocked a “balle de c’est la vie” from Miguel Batista into the second deck in left to give the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. Chants of “Let’s go Red Sox!” swept the park. The game remained close, with Tim Wakefield, hoping to keep the crowd in the game, managed to load the bases with no one out in the 6th, forcing a reliever, former Blue Jay Mike Timlin–who wears a camouflage t-shirt under his jersey–to strike out the next two Blue Jays and get a groundout to preserve the lead.

When the seventh-inning stretch rolled around, the mostly-annoying P.A. announcer—who seemed to take his vocal stylings and enthusiasm from former “Double Dare” host Marc Summers—shouted to the assembled, “It’s seventh-inning stretch time, and you all know what that means!” Fool that I am, I thought I did. Instead of one of the two acceptable songs for this moment (I allow “Roll out the Barrel”), the Jays began playing some hideous song that mixed loud guitars and processed drums and banal lyrics about the Jays, the Skydome, the baseball, and how we’re all going to enjoy a day at the ballgame. It even referred to “the umpire’s call” as an element we might have been looking forward to, which I suppose we might, in the same sense in which we might look forward to hearing that our cancer is benign. It was a nasty little song–but I was given pause when I looked around and saw that the audience was kind of into it. They were making some kind of lazy gestures that were being encouraged by the Jays’ cheerleaders (yes, that’s another abomination that we won’t discuss) atop the dugouts. Maybe I was wrong? Maybe this was a good song, beloved by Jays fans? But then I remembered that half the audience were Red Sox fans, and we all know that Red Sox fans prefer pain and suffering to pleasure and happiness. They probably play the long version of “Feels So Good” at Fenway in the seventh. “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” was played following “Sucky Jays Baseball Song” so I guess no permanent harm was done. But the whole thing did nothing to lessen my feeling of being stuck back in the 1988-1991 period, a dark era if ever there was one.
The game was the longest we’ve seen on the trip so far, but it stayed close–5-4 Sox–to the end, so we didn’t mind. And, unlike the Sox fans who left–rushing back to their hotels to catch the latest medal count update?–in the 8th, we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be. When Keith Foulke struck out Eric Hinske to deliver the W for the Sox, a rousing cheer went up from the Hub fans, and, for one night at least, all was well in Red Sox Nation—though the situation among the Sox fans still didn’t feel quite healthy. After all, midway through the game, apropos of nothing, a chant of “Yankees suck!” made the rounds. Obsession is an ugly thing, as are festering inferiority complexes.

Oh, and Johnny Damon? He played a solid centre field, though one ball went over his head. Walk, groundout, single (complete with a stolen base and an advancement to third on a throwing error), strikeout. Sadly for everyone involved, neither his helmet or his cap ever left his head. If I assume that that’s Bud Selig’s fault (Maybe Selig ordered Damon to get some toques that fit?), is that a sign that my Selig hatred is becoming unhealthy?

Oh, well, on to Montreal! Oui, Monsieur!

Original comments…

thatbob: I was going to say that Marc Summers might be Canadian, but a little research shows that he’s a Hoosier. Still, there’s no reason the announcer couldn’t have been Marc Summers. What else is he doing?

Speaking of parallel universe song choices, did you sing along with “O! Canada! before the game at the top of your lungs? That’s *my* favorite thing about Blue Jays games. You have no idea how loudly I can sing “O! Canada!” No idea.

stacey: 1. marc summers is hosting a show on the food network. it only occasionally involves slime.

2. the version of “o, canada!” i hear most often is the hidden track on the end of cub’s “mauler” – and the words go, “o, canada! what’s wrong with you?” this is problematic for singing along at the ballpark.

What You’ve All Been Waiting For: Two Johnny Damon Poems!

Johnny Damon, MVP

Johnny Damon, MVP
Who could e’er compete with thee?
Thy tresses steal the hearts of fans,
Thy beard surpasses any man’s.
Though sportswriters may disagree,
The cognoscenti are with me,
And ladies coast to coast can see:
You’re super-cute — you’re MVP!

The Hirsute Hero

Oh, Johnny Damon, when you walked,
Why did you not steal second?
And having stolen second, chalked
Up an easy steal of third–
With each advance your helmet flying
Off behind you in the dirt?
I worry that you’re just not trying,
Perhaps you fail to understand
Just why it is we show you love.
Here in this distant foreign land
We like your play, but way above
All else we love your beard and hair
Unfettered by your helm or hat,
Free-flowing, lovely, everywhere.
So, in the field, remember that
We want to see you run and dive
Your cap fly off, your hair set free
Its flowing tresses so alive.
And on the bases, don’t forget
Your fans are waiting patiently.
Whene’er the pitcher comes to set,
For you to take off instantly.
Steal second, third, and even home.
Run, run — that’s what we love you for!
We even promise not to moan,
If you’re thrown out — we’ll love you more!

Original comments…

stacey: levi, you’ve never written any poetry for me . . . is it because i don’t have a beard?

Johnny Damon’s Beard: Thank you very much.

Johnny Damon’s Earlobes: Hey, what about me?