My painful decision to don a Red Sox ball cap

I am finally able to turn the page on my beloved Expos

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by L. IAN MacDONALD
The Gazette, Saturday, July 5, 2008

It was time for closure on the Expos, so in Maine the other day, I bought a Red Sox cap at the drug store in Ogunquit.This was an intensely personal and exceedingly painful decision.

In the years since the Expos left Montreal for Washington, I haven't been able to wear my favourite baseball hat, an authentic red Expos warmup cap given to me by my friend Jacques Ménard, when he was chairman of the consortium that bought the team from its founder Charles Bronfman in 1990, for the express purpose of keeping it in Montreal.

From the Expos we learned that baseball is a game to break your heart, as in 1981 when we lost the pennant to the Dodgers in the ninth inning of the deciding playoff game. Or 1994, when Montreal had the best team in baseball, but was deprived of post-season play by a season-ending players strike.

My daughter loved going to see the Expos, from childhood to her early teenage years. She once stood in line for a pre-game autograph from Vladimir Guerrero, who was blessed with wondrous gifts and a sweet disposition. He signed his colour photo on an Expos calendar, and gave her a dazzling smile. She still remembers the moment and still has the calendar hanging in her room.

"Daddy," she asked, when it was announced the Expos were really, really leaving Montreal, "why are we losing our baseball team?" I blamed it on a man named Jeffrey Loria, who gave carpetbaggers a bad name.

In the unkindest of all fates, Loria traded in the Expos for the Florida Marlins, and won a World Series. The Expos became the Washington Nationals, but even though they now played in a city where I had lived for five years, I couldn't even bear to read the National League standings.

Wearing another team cap was out of the question. Certainly not the Yankees, the most expensive team money could buy. And decidedly not the Toronto Blue Jays, Canada's other team. And if you don't know the why of that, then you're not from Montreal.

Even when the Blue Jays won the World Series, in 1992, I couldn't wear their hat at a Canadian Embassy reception in their honour in Washington.

They were invited to the White House, as is customary, by the first President Bush. As head of the public affairs department I suggested that we invite the Jays to the embassy's sixth floor, with its unexceeded views of the U.S. capitol, the night before. "Great idea," enthused our ambassador, Derek Burney, who set it up with the Blue Jays.

We even arranged for them to ship the actual World Series pennant, which we unfurled down the side of the embassy, right on Pennsylvania Ave., a very in- their-face gesture which was widely noted in Washington.

But wear their hat? Never

With the passage of time, the Red Sox seemed an obvious candidate as a newly adopted team. Since winning the World Series in 2004 and again in 2007, they are no longer beautiful losers, but still have an enduring legacy of heartbreak with which any Expos fan can identify.

Their 86 years of World Series frustration is exceeded only by the Chicago Cubs, who in 2008 mark a century of futility since their last victory. If you want to start a conversation in Boston, just mention 1946, 1967, 1975 or 1986, defining moments in the history of heartbreak. Besides, the Red Sox are a regional franchise, right on our doorstep, which claims the allegiance of all New Englanders. Moreover, they are endearingly struggling anew, currently trailing the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, whom I generally think of as the team in the Dennis Quaid movie, The Rookie.

So, finally, a Red Sox cap. Made in China, of course. In regulation blue, with the trademark red B. Other hues of hat are available, including red, a legitimate heritage colour, since Boston wore red caps a couple of decades ago. But pea green? Ugh. Light blue? That's the University of North Carolina's colour.

And there's pink, a big seller judging by the women at the beach, and a matter of some controversy among purists and Fenway fanatics.

"Why is this pink hat so hated?" asked the Boston Globe in a screaming headline on its Style section page. One fan, himself the father of two girls, suggested pink hats should be banned from Fenway Park.

Gosh, the Calgary Stampede adopted pink as a colour of choice last year, in solidarity with the fight against breast cancer, and the slogan that cowboys were "tough enough to wear pink."

This is a serious business. In a bar in Nashua, New Hampshire, the other night, a lively debate developed between two Red Sox fans and a woman in a Yankee cap. They took it outside into the parking lot where the Yankee fan rammed the Sox fans as they were driving off in their car. The Sox fans were injured and criminal charges have been preferred. The Yankee fan has no chance of getting a fair trial anywhere in New England, also known as Red Sox nation.

Meanwhile, back at the beach, the parking-lot attendant at Ogunquit beach expressed strong approval of my new cap.

"I like your hat," he said in that distinctive New England accent. "Couple of Yankee fans in that car just ahead of you."

Thanks for the heads up.

 
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