Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cue John Sterling: "You Just Can't Predict Baseball"

Let me get this straight: The Yankees swept the pesky Toronto Blue Jays, everybody's preseason pick to win the AL East, 4 straight... and then got pounded by the pathetic Houston Astros?

"You know, Mike, you just can't predict baseball."

Oh, put a sock in it, Sterling, you huckleberry.

Facing the only other MLB team he's ever played for, his "hometown team" -- he was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which is Astro territory, and grew up in the Houston suburb of Deer Park, Texas -- Andy Pettitte had nothing last night.  Joe Girardi said it was the first time he'd ever seen Andy not have a good slider.  He allowed 3 runs in the 1st, 2 in the 4th, and 2 in the 5th before Adam Warren came in to relieve him and allowed 2 more.  Andy only walked 1 batter, but allowed 10 hits, including a home run, a triple and 4 doubles.  His record fell to 3-2.

In contrast, Lucas Harrell (also now 3-2) went into the 7th for the Astros, allowing just 1 run.  It came in the bottom of the 6th.  With 1 out, Brett Gardner and Robinson Cano singled, a wild pitch advanced Gardner to 3rd (but not Cano to 2nd), and Vernon Wells singled Gardner home.  But that was it: After Travis Hafner struck out, Brennan Boesch worked a walk to load the bases, but Jayson Nix grounded out.

In addition, the Yankees grounded into double plays in the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 7th.  They stranded a runner on 1st in the 4th and the 5th, and on 1st and 2nd in the 8th.

Astros 9, Yankees 1.

This was the kind of game people were fearing when we went into the regular season with no Jeter, no A-Rod, no Teix, no Grandy, and no established catcher.

And yet, even with this, the Yankees are 15-10.

"You know, Mike... "

Not now, Sterling.

*

Days until Arsenal play another competitive match: 4, this Saturday, away to another London club, the already-relegated Queens Park Rangers, managed by former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp.  He's got a twitch.  This past Sunday, Arsenal got screwed by the refs again, at home to the officials' favorite team, Manchester United, but still managed a 1-1 draw.

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 4, this Saturday afternoon, away to the Columbus Crew.  The Red Bulls followed up their 3-2 home win over the New England Revolution with a stunning 2-1 win away to Toronto FC, with former Everton star Tim Cahill scoring both goals, including the winner in the 90th and final minute of normal time.  In their last home game, the Crew beat D.C. United, in a game delayed because their scoreboard caught fire.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby," against either the New England Revolution, the Philadelphia Union or D.C. United: 11, a week from this Saturday night, 11, away to New England.

Days until the U.S. National Soccer Team plays again: 29, on Wednesday, May 29, in a friendly against Belgium, featuring Arsenal captain Thomas Vermaelen.  Just 4 weeks.  That game will be played at FirstEnergy Stadium, formerly Cleveland Browns Stadium.  It, and the subsequent Sunday afternoon game against Germany at RFK Stadium in Washington, will be warmups for our next game in the last, "Hexagonal" round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers, for the region that encompasses North America, Central America, and the Caribbean nations.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 31, on Friday, May 31, at home.   Just 1 month.  The first Yanks-Sox series of the year at Fenway Park won't begin until Friday, July 19.  Then another series begins at Fenway on Friday, August 16.  Then another in The Bronx on Thursday, September 5, and another at Fenway on Friday, September 13.  Oh yeah, if you're a Red Sox fan, that's a day you want to play the Yankees: Friday the 13th!

Days until the next North London Derby: Unknown, since next season's schedule won't be released until mid-June.  The season will most likely open on the 3rd Saturday in August, in this case August 17, but it's been a long time since Arsenal vs. Tottenham was an early game (possibly 1988-89).  But even if it is that early, that's 111 days.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 121, on Thursday night, August 29, away to Fresno State University in California.  A little under 4 months.  The first home game of the 2013 season will be on Saturday, September 7, vs. Norfolk State.  The schedule is now complete, with all opponents and locations set in this, Rutgers' last season in the Big East, before starting Big Ten play in 2014.  The only thing that hasn't been set is the kickoff times, with TV in mind.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: 135, on September 12 -- on a Thursday due to Rosh Hoshanah, the Jewish New Year, falling on a weekend.  It's away to South Brunswick.  A little over 4 months.  It 
will be the first game they play without Marcus Borden as head coach since Thanksgiving Day 1982 (a loss to Colonia High of Woodbridge), as he has left the program.  (Did he jump, or was he pushed? I don't know.) A new coach has been named: Bob Molarz, who turned nearby Carteret High School, which couldn't buy a win while I was at EBHS, into a team that made the Playoffs 9 seasons in a row and won 3 Central Jersey Group II Championships.  He comes to us from the head job at one of our rivals, St. Joseph's of Metuchen, where he coached their first 2 seasons of varsity ball.  A great hire.

Days until the Devils play again: Unknown, as the 2013-14 NHL schedule has yet to be released.  Most likely, the new season will begin on the 1st Friday of October.  If so, and the Devils debut on opening night (rather than the next night, Saturday), that's 157 days.

Days until the Devils play another local rival: See the previous answer.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 212.  Under 8 months.

Days until Super Bowl XLVIII at the Meadowlands: 277 (February 2, 2014).  A little over 9 months.  Of course, we have no idea who the opposing teams will be.  The possibility exists that either the Giants or the Jets could be in it -- or both.  To this day, no team has ever played a Super Bowl in its own stadium -- in spite of multiple hostings by Miami, New Orleans and various California teams.  Only 2 have done so in their home metro area: The 1979-80 Los Angeles Rams, whose home field was then the L.A. Coliseum, and they lost to Pittsburgh at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena; and the 1984-85 San Francisco 49ers, whose home field, then as now, was Candlestick Park, and they beat Miami at Stanford Stadium in Palo Alto, which had a much larger capacity than Candlestick.

Days until the next Winter Olympics, in Sochi, Russia: 283 (February 7, 2014).

Days until the next World Cup, in Brazil: 408 (June 12, 2014).  Under 14 months.

Days until the next Summer Olympics, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 1,193 (August 5, 2016).  Under 3 1/2 years.

Monday, April 29, 2013

2013 AL East Champion Toronto Blue Jays Dethroned in 4-Game Sweep by Yankees

On March 30, an ESPN panel, selected to pick Major League Baseball's 2013 Playoff teams, Pennant winners and World Champion, included the following:

* Aaron Boone, former major league infielder, 3rd-generation major league player, Yankee postseason hero 2003.

* Mark Mulder, former All-Star pitcher for the Oakland Athletics, member of the 2006 World Champion St. Louis Cardinals.

* Manny Acta, former manager of the Washington Nationals and Cleveland Indians.

* Jim Bowden, former general manager of the Nationals and Cincinnati Reds.

* Jayson Stark, ESPN baseball expert and former Philadelphia Inquirer columnist.

* Tim Kurkjian, ESPN baseball expert and former Sports Illustrated writer.

* Jim Caple, ESPN.com columnist, author of The Devil Wears Pinstripes, although, to be fair, he also seems to hate the Red Sox, saying last June that the Sox being in last place may be the best thing he saw for the season.  He's from the Seattle area and a Mariners fan.

* Dan Shulman, who, to be fair, is from Toronto.

* Michael Knisley, ESPN.com columnist, not to be confused with political columnist Michael Kinsley.

* Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com writer.

* Marty Bernoski, ESPN.com writer.

* Matt Szefc, ESPN.com writer.

* Dan Szymborski, ESPN Insider.

* Molly Knight, ESPN The Magazine.

* Stephania Bell, ESPN Fantasy.  (In this case, she really fantasized, just like these others.)

* Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com

* Richard Durrett, ESPNDallas.com, who did not have the guts to say his hometown Texas Rangers would make it at least to a Game 163 for the 4th straight season.

* Carolina Guillen, ESPN Deportes.

* Pedro Zayas, ESPN Deportes.

* Dave Cameron, FanGraphs.

All of these people picked the Toronto Blue Jays to win the American League Eastern Division.

Ms. Bell actually picked the Jays to win the World Series, defeating the Washington Nationals.  Cameron picked the reverse of that, meaning he picked the Jays to win the AL Pennant.  Marchand also picked the Jays to win the Pennant, although he said they would lose the Series to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Not all of the ESPN panel picked the Jays to win the AL East.  Former Red Sox superstar shortstop Nomar Garciaparra picked the Tampa Bay Rays.  So did Alex Cora, who played 14 seasons in the majors, including winning a tainted ring with the 2007 Red Sox and paying for that by spending 2 years in purgatory, a.k.a. playing for the Mets, picked the Tampa Bay Rays.  Picking the Rays wasn't a result of bias for either Garciaparra or Cora, since neither ever played for them.

Karl Ravech and Pedro Gomez of ESPN's SportsCenter, Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com (and formerly a great writer for the Boston Globe), Peter Pascarelli of ESPN Radio, also picked the Rays.  So did David Schoenfield of ESPN.com.  So did Joe McDonald and Matt Meyers of ESPNBoston.com, and Tristan Cockcroft and A.J. Mass of ESPN Fantasy.  So did Christina Kahrl of ESPN.com, but she predicted the Jays would win the Wild Card and use that as a springboard for the Pennant, before losing the Series to the Nats.

Pitching legend Curt Schilling, Jon Sciambi of ESPN, Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com and formerly of the New York Daily NewsDoug Padilla of ESPNChicago.com, Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com, and Doug Mittler of Rumor Central also predicted the Rays for the Division and the Jays for the Wild Card.

Buster Olney, a longtime ESPN baseball guy, picked the Baltimore Orioles.  So did Rick Sutcliffe, a Cy Young Award winner with the Cubs, who pitched for the Orioles and threw a shutout in the first game at Camden Yards in 1992.

And, as long as we're trying to be fair, most of the people who picked the Jays to win the AL East picked the Detroit Tigers to win the Pennant.

Of all the 43 "experts" they polled, only ONE, Mark Simon, of ESPN Stats & Information, picked the Yankees to win the AL East -- although he, too, picked the Tigers to win the Pennant.

They weren't the only ones picked those pesky Blue Jays to win the AL East:

"The offseason additions have sent a message to the players that the Blue Jays are serious about contending. Their lineup, with newcomers Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio at the top, has table-setters who can help manufacture runs, as well as big boppers like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion. And the rotation has gotten a major boost from the acquisition of Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey, Josh Johnson and Mark Buehrle. This is a team ready to return to the postseason for the first time since 1993... A balanced lineup and strong rotation should end Toronto's two-decade-long wait for a playoff spot. In a balanced division where it's impossible to forecast the last-place team with any certainty, the Blue Jays should still rise above the rest." -- Jorge L. Ortiz, USA Today, March 25

"If their lineup can remain healthy for the season and Bautista regains his form, the Toronto Blue Jays could look to ride the bats of superstars and the arms of young talent and veteran leadership to their first AL East crown since 1993." -- Zachary Krueger, Bleacher Report, who at least qualified it with an "If," and also said that R.A. Dickey would win less than 15 games for the Jays.

"It's going to be a Blue Jays autumn... First-rate rotation. Powerful lineup. Popular manager back in the saddle. About the only question is the bullpen, but the Blue Jays are so good in every other area that the pieces seem likely to fit together." -- Richard Justice, MLB.com, former Houston Chronicle columnist, March 26

"With the determination of the players on the roster, and the fact that the team has a no-nonsense manager in John Gibbons, the Blue Jays should have no issues taking the AL East crown in 2013." -- Michael Straw, Yahoo Sports, March 29

"I'll tell you how good the Jays are going to be: They'll be so good, the President will stay for all 9 innings.  No sneaking out after 6 or 7." -- Gary Matthews Sr., former All-Star outfielder for the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, father of a major leaguer, now a Phillies broadcaster, quoted in the Toronto Sun, March 31

"I realize that I am no doubt biased on this topic, but I attempted to look at this as subjectively as possible, and am still adamant that the Toronto Blue Jays will once again be at the top of the American League East pecking order... Bet on it, bank on it and believe it: The Toronto Blue Jays will once again be playing meaningful baseball in October." -- Clayton Richer, RantSports.com, April 1

*

Look, I'm not picking on ALL the morons who refused to admit that the Yankees, in spite of all their injuries and upheaval, were still capable of contending for the Playoffs, winning the AL East, or even going all the way.

I'm just picking on the morons who said it was going to be the Blue Jays who would win the Division.

And, of course, that list has the names of some pretty bright guys on it.  We Yankee Fans said Nomar was overrated, selfish, weird, and had a big nose, but we never said he was stupid.  Sarge Matthews was a very smart player and he's become a pretty good broadcaster.  So has Sutcliffe, who was a real thinking fan's pitcher.  So was Mulder.  And Stark, Kurkjian, Edes and Justice are 4 of the best baseball writers of the last quarter-century.  These guys know their stuff.

They were fooled.  All of them.  And the rest? They don't have the reputations that can lead me to say, "Maybe they're only morons for a moment."

But I want them to remember the moment that they were morons.  The moment that they made themselves look like the people who said to buy stock in Goldman Sachs and Lehman Brothers in 2007.

*

Thursday night, the Yankees came from 3-0 behind and beat the Jays at The Stadium, 5-3.  Friday night, they came from 1-0 and 2-1 behind to beat the Jays, 6-4.  Brett Gardner hit his 3rd home run of the season to make the difference.  WP: David Phelps (1-1) in relief of Ivan Nova.  SV: Mariano Rivera (8).  LP: Brad Lincoln (0-1).

That's the good news.  The bad news is, Nova had to leave the game with an injury, but was relieved very well by Phelps.  Catcher Francisco Cervelli took a foul tip and broke his hand.  He'll be out at least 6 weeks, at a position at which the Yankees are already thin.  Nova is eligible to come off the Disabled List on May 11.

Saturday afternoon, the Yankees came from behind again: They were 3-0 down going into the bottom of the 4th, but leadoff walks by Vernon Wells (tormenting his former team yet again) and Kevin Youkilis were followed by Travis Hafner tying the game with his 6th homer of the season.  That's 3 of Brian Cashman's overage destroyers getting the job done, again.

The Jays took the lead back in the top of the 6th, but in the bottom of the 7th, the Yankees did what the Yankees do.  With one out, the smoking-hot bat of Robinson Cano produced a double, and, yeah, him again, Wells singled him home to tie it up.  After a Youkilis groundout moved Wells over to 2nd, a pitching change was of no help to the Jays, as Hafner tripled off Brett Cecil, to produce the final score.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 4.  WP: CC Sabathia (4-2).  No save.  LP: Esmil Rogers (1-2).

Yesterday afternoon, the Yankees took the first lead of the game, on a 2nd-inning home run by another of Cashman's emergency pickups, Brennan Boesch (his 2nd of the year).  But the Jays tied it in the 4th and took the lead in the 6th, so, again, the Yankees needed to come from behind.

They did.  With ex-Met knuckleball hero R.A. Dickey still pitching in the bottom of the 7th, Hafner led off with a single.  Boesch and Jayson Nix flew out.  But another of Cashman's elderly emergency pickups, another ex-Blue Jay, Lyle Overbay, hit one out to center field.  That produced the final score.

Yankees 3, Blue Jays 2.  WP: Logan (1-1).  SV: Rivera (9).  LP: Dickey (2-4 -- ERA 4.50.  Pitching in the American League is hard).


Phil Hughes -- one of the prospects the Yankees refused to give up in a trade to the Minnesota Twins for The Great Johan Santana, not only pitched better than Santana would have (since Santana is hurt -- again), but he essentially outpitched Dickey.  Roll that in your joint and smoke it, Flushing Heathen!

In this series, the Yankees outscored the Jays 19-13 -- an average of 5-3.

Jose Reyes is batting .395, and the Jays are hitting home runs at the expected rate.  But as the cliche goes, "Pitching is 75 percent of baseball." The Jays understood that, they just screwed it up:

* J.A. Happ: 5 starts, 2-1, ERA 3.86, WHIP 1.25.  That's only a fair job, and that's the best of their starters' performances.  On most contenders, that would be a 3rd or 4th starter.

* R.A. Dickey: 6 starts, 2-4, 4.50, 1.31.

* Brandon Morrow: 5 starts, 0-2, 5.27, 1.54.  Ouch.

* Mark Buehrle: 5 starts, 1-1, 6.35, 1.52.  Yikes.

* Josh Johnson: 4 starts, 0-1, 6.86, 1.88.  The other start was made by Aaron Laffey this past Friday night when Johnson got scratched due to injury, so if you combine their stats, it's 5 starts, 0-1, 6.85, 1.97.

Here are the American League Eastern Division standings, going into tonight's games, with 4 of the regular season's 26 weeks gone:

Boston 18-7.
New York 15-9, 2 1/2 games behind, 2 in the loss column.
Baltimore, 15-10, 3 back.
Tampa Bay, 12-13, 6 back.
Toronto, 9-17, 9 1/2 back, 10 in the loss column.

The Blue Jays are 10 games behind in the loss column after one month.  Does that mean that, at the end of the 6-month season, they will be 60 games behind the Division winner? 

Their "winning percentage" is .346.  Over 162 games, that comes out to 56-106.  A team 60 games ahead of that would be 116-46.  So that's unlikely.

But the AL East winner will, almost certainly win at least 95 games.  To achieve that total, the Jays would have to win 86 of their last 136, or a 102-win pace.

It's not looking good for them.

The only teams in the major leagues with worse records are the Houston Astros (7-18, .280) and the Miami Marlins (6-19, .240).

Meanwhile, although neither the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians nor the Milwaukee Brewers are in the AL East anymore, and the Tampa Bay Rays are, the Division appears to be a 3-way race between the Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and the Baltimore Orioles.

I take comfort in the familiar, especially from the good things that happened when I was a boy.  Seeing New York, Boston, Baltimore at the top is refreshing.


The Yankees now begin a 3-game home series with the woeful Astros, now an American League team after 52 seasons in the National League.  Tonight at 7, Andy Pettitte takes on the only other team he's ever pitched for, opposed by Lucas Harrell.  Tomorrow night, Hiroki Kuroda vs. Philip Humber -- the ex-Met turned perfect game pitcher now 0-5 on the season.  Wednesday night, David Phelps against former Baltimore All-Star Erik Bedard, who may have lost it.

Maybe the Blue Jays should have traded for Humber and/or Bedard.  They wouldn't have been a whole lot worse.

Maybe the Jays can pick up Scott Proctor.  My former bullpen headache-inducer was released by the Orioles after a bad start in Triple-A.  At this point, he can be the Jays' long reliever.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rick Camp, 1953-2013

Rick Camp died yesterday, from causes as yet unrevealed, though an early determination by the coroner in Rydal, Georgia suggests there was no foul play, nor a violent suicide -- apparently, natural causes.  He was just short of his 60th birthday.

Rick Lamar Camp was born June 10, 1953, in Trion, Georgia, 95 miles northwest of Atlanta, grew up there,  and pitched for his home-State Braves from 1976 to 1985.  He had a career record of 56-49, with an ERA of 3.37, a WHIP of 1.386, and 57 saves.  His best year was the strike-shortened season of 1981, when he went 9-3, ERA 1.78, WHIP 1.053, and 17 saves for a 50-56 Braves team.  He pitched for the Braves in the 1982 National League Championship Series, but got rocked in his only appearance, losing a game to the St. Louis Cardinals, and that was the closest he ever got to a World Series.

By 1985, he had lost his effectiveness, and on October 5 of that season he pitched his last major league game.  But it was on the 4th of July that season -- or, more accurately, the 5th -- that he made himself a baseball legend.

*

The Braves were hosting the Mets at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, and owner Ted Turner, showman that he was (and is), scheduled a postgame 4th of July fireworks show.  Paid attendance at the 52,007-seat concrete ashtray just south of downtown Atlanta was 44,947.

But the game was delayed by rain, and didn't start until 9:04 PM.  Rick Mahler started for the Braves -- and, like Camp, he would also die young -- and the Mets hit him hard, and he didn't get out of the 4th inning.  Dwight Gooden started for the Mets, and, in a year when he seemed to be touched by God, he was no better.  A second rain delay came, and Met manager Davey Johnson didn't take any chances, and he took Doctor K out.

Did I say Davey didn't take any chances? When they came back from the rain delay, he let Roger McDowell, normally a late-inning reliever, finish the bottom of the 3rd inning.  Terry Leach pitched the 4th through the 8th, but Davey brought in Doug Sisk, and he let the Braves score 4 runs in that inning to take the lead, 8-7.  This included a Keith Hernandez home run.  But future Hall-of-Famer Bruce Sutter blew it in the 9th, and the game went to extra innings.  At one point, Davey got thrown out of the game.

The Braves got 2 men on with 1 out in the bottom of the 11th, but the Mets got out of it with a double play.  In the top of the 13th, with 2 out, Ray Knight singled, and Howard Johnson hit a home run.  10-8 Mets.  But in the bottom of the 13th, Tom Gorman -- the only reliever the Mets had left -- allowed a leadoff single to Rafael Ramirez.  He struck out Dale Murphy and Gerald Perry, but then gave up a home run to Terry Harper.  10-10.  More baseball.

Gene Garber walked Lenny Dykstra and Hernandez in the top of the 14th, but got out of it.  Knight singled for the Mets in the top of the 15th, but got no farther than 1st base.  With 2 out in the bottom of the 16th, Ken Oberkfell singled off Gorman, and Bruce Benedict drew a walk.  But Gorman got out of it.

Camp, the Braves' last reliever, came into the game in the top of the 17th, and walked Gary Carter, but then struck out Darryl Strawberry and Gorman, and got Knight to ground into a force play.  Ramirez singled with 2 outs in the bottom of the 17th, but Gorman got out of it.

Top of the 18th.  HoJo led off with a single.  Danny Heep bunted, and Camp rushed it, and threw it away.  1st and 3rd, nobody out.  Dykstra hit a sacrifice fly, and it was 11-10 Mets.  Nothing Braves manager Eddie Haas could do, as Camp was it: The only pitchers he had left were starters, same as the Mets.

Bottom of the 18th.  Perry and Harper grounded out.  That brought up Camp, as Haas couldn't pinch-hit for him.  He had nobody left to bat or pitch.  This pudgy bearded guy, wearing Number 37 for his home-State team, came up to bat.  He came into that game 10-for-168 for his career -- a lifetime batting average of .060.  He hadn't gotten a hit since September 1, 1984.  He was 0-for-his-last-13.

John Sterling, now the main voice of the Yankees, but then doing games for the Braves, turned to his partner, Ernie Johnson -- who pitched for the Braves in Milwaukee and was the father of basketball announcer Ernie Johnson Jr. -- and said, "I'll tell you, Ernie: If hits a home run to tie this game, this game will be certified as absolutely the nuttiest in the history of baseball."

What do you think happened? Have you ever heard 8,000 people make as much noise as 50,000? You did if you were watching TBS -- or WOR-Channel 9 -- that middle-of-the-night.

Sterling:

And he hits it to deep left! Heep goes back! It is... GONE! Holy cow! Oh my goodness! I don't believe it! I don't believe it! Rick Camp! Rick Camp! I told you Ernie, if he hits it out... That certifies this game as the wildest, wackiest, most improbable game in history!

Mets 11, Braves 11.  And to make matters worse, Gorman walked the next batter, Benedict.  But he got Runge to ground into a force play, and we went to the 19th inning.

The Mets play a game this long every few years.  In 1964, they went 23 innings in a loss to San Francisco.  In 1965, they went 18 innings in Philadelphia before getting called due to a curfew, and it was replayed.  In 1968, they went 24 innings in a loss to Houston.  In 1974, they went 25 innings in a loss to St. Louis.  In 1986, they played what was then the longest game in NLCS history, going 16 innings in beating Houston to clinch the Pennant.  They had a few more 14+ inning games before their most recent marathon effort, a 2010 game in which they went 20 innings in beating St. Louis.

At some point in all this, Ralph Kiner, the great Pittsburgh Pirates slugger who'd been broadcasting for the Mets since the franchise began in 1962 (and still does one game a week at age 90), left the stadium, and returned to his hotel, and turned on the TV.  He saw the game, and thought it was a recap.  Nope, the game was still going on.

Finally, at about 3:30 in the morning, with only about 8,000 people left in the stands, the Mets decided enough was enough, that they'd had it with these mother-freaking Braves in this mother-freaking game.  They pounded Camp, who could not be relieved.  Carter led off with a single.  John Christensen, who'd pinch-hit for Darryl, bunted him over to 2nd.

Whoever was managing the Mets at that point -- it might have been 1st base coach Bill Robinson -- decided to let the next day's starter, Ron Darling, pitch the bottom of the 19th, and a few innings thereafter if necessary, since who knew if this game had another 9 innings in it, and sent Rusty Staub, playing one of his last games, up to pinch-hit for the exhausted Gorman.  Haas ordered Camp to walk Staub intentionally to set up a double play, but it didn't work: Knight doubled home Carter and sent Staub to 3rd.  (Staub wasn't fast even before he turned into a flame-haired Fat Elvis -- or, as Sterling called him in this game, "Babe Ruth.") HoJo was intentionally walked, and that didn't work, either: Heep singled home Staub and Knight, and the throw from the outfield was mishandled, and HoJo scored, too.  Dykstra flew out, getting Heep to 3rd, and Wally Backman singled Heep home, before Camp finally got Hernandez to ground out.

Mets 16, Braves 11.  Remember, this was the mid-1980s Mets, not today's joke of a club.  These Mets were good.  Surely, these Mets could hold a 5-run lead.  Surely, the Braves wouldn't score 6 runs and win it in the bottom of the 19th.  Or, potentially worse, score 5 runs and send the game to a 20th inning!

Darling came out, and got the first out, a groundout by Paul Zuvella.  But Claudell Washington hit a bouncer to 1st that Hernandez mishandled.  (No, Kramer and Newman were not in the stands to yell, "Nice game, pretty boy!") Claudell and his long neck got to 2nd.

No problem, Darling would get out of it, right? Sure enough, he got Ramirez to pop up.  One more out.  That left only the dangerous Murphy, the 1982 & '83 National League Most Valuable Player and still one of the most dangerous hitters in the game, but what could he do? A home run would make it 16-13.  But Darling walked him.  And then he walked Perry.  And now the bases were loaded for Harper, who had already homered.  And Harper singled.  Washington and Murphy scored.  Perry was on 3rd.  It was 16-13 Mets.  Men on 1st and 3rd.  A home run would tie the game.  Again.

And who was up? Rick Camp.

Darling struck him out on a high fastball.  Finally, mercifully, at long last, ballgame over.

Camp was the losing pitcher, but he won something more important than a baseball game.  He won a place in baseball lore.  It's 28 years later, and we're still talking about this mind-boggling game.

Oh yeah: Although the game was over, the night wasn't.  The game ended at 3:55 AM.  At 4:00 on the dot, Ted Turner kept his promise: The fireworks went off.  The 8,000 or so fans who hadn't left cheered.

People living near the stadium did not.  They heard booms and saw flashes of light, and they called the police, thinking that Atlanta was under attack.

*

Incredibly, Camp got 2 more hits that season, for a batting average of .231.  He closed his career 13-for-175, .074.  On-base percentage, .109.  Slugging percentage, .114.  OPS, .224.  OPS+, -39.  RBIs, 7.  Home runs, 1.

After leaving baseball, Camp became a lobbyist.  He got into legal trouble in 2005, indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to steal over $2 million from a mental health agency. He was convicted, and served 3 years in prison.  But everyone who met him seemed to say he was a wonderful guy.  Is it possible that, like Denny McLain, who went to prison on a similar charge, he simply got in with the wrong people?

At any rate, rest in peace, Rick.  You gave baseball fans a memory they might cherish, or they might not, but they will never, ever forget.

Yanks Don't Believe the Hype, Smack Those Pesky Blue Jays

The Yankees started a home series last night, against those pesky Toronto Blue Jays, with their new pitching acquisitions and Jose Reyes.

It hasn't worked out for them.  They were 9-13 coming into this game.  The new pitchers haven't gotten the job done.  And Reyes -- hardly a surprise for any observer of New York baseball -- has been hurt.  Munenori Kawasaki was the Jays' shortstop last night.

The Jays jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first 2 innings, but then Hiroki Kuroda settled down, and pitched through the 6th without allowing another run.  Joba Chamberlain, David Robertson and Mariano Rivera each contributed a scoreless inning with only Joba allowing a baserunner (one single).

The Yankees pulled a run back in the bottom of the 2nd, on a home run by, yes, Jays fans, him again, Vernon Wells (his 6th of the season, and it's still April).  In the 3rd, with 1 out, Jayson Nix and Brett Gardner hit back-to-back singles.  After a flyout, Robinson Cano hit one out to give the Yankees the lead.  (His 7th homer, and, yes, it's still April.) Francisco Cervelli homered in the 4th (his 3rd), to make the final score.

Yankees 5, Blue Jays 3.  WP: Kuroda (3-1).  SV: Rivera (7).  LP: New acquisition Mark Buherle (1-1, his ERA now 6.35).

The series continues tonight, with Ivan Nova starting against new acquisition Josh Johnson.  Nova isn't off to a great start: 1-1, 6.14.  Johnson is off to a worse one: 0-1, 6.86.

The Boston Red Sox lead the Division by 2 over the Baltimore Orioles, by 2 1/2 over the Yankees (2 in the loss column), 5 over the Tampa Bay Rays, and 6 1/2 over the Jays (7 in the loss column).  That's right: For all their hype, the pesky Blue Jays are now SEVEN GAMES BEHIND in the all-important loss column.  Did I mention it's still April?

Now, that doesn't mean that, when the regular season ends on September 29, the Jays will be 42 games out (7 games x 6 months).  It does mean that maybe we shouldn't snicker at the cliche that "Pitching is 75 percent of baseball." The Jays figured it out, they just didn't get the right pitchers.

UPDATE: The Jays have scratched Johnson from tonight's start.  Aaron Laffey, a former Yankee, will start for them instead.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

How to Be a Met Fan in Miami -- 2013 Edition

Stereotypically, South Florida in general, and Miami in particular, is where old Italian and Jewish New Yorkers go to retire.  Along with the railroad and air-conditioning, New Yorkers essentially made that region possible.

And how has Miami thanked New York? Well, the Dolphins have made fools out of the Jets (not that the Jets have needed much help), the Marlins have beaten the Yankees in a World Series and tormented the Mets in 2 season-ending knock-'em-out-of-Playoff-contention games, and the Heat have fought with the Knicks, figuratively and literally.

But the Marlins' new ballpark is so sparsely populated these days that, starting this coming Monday night in a 3-game series, Met fans can do what Yankee Fans do in Tampa Bay: Take over the ballpark, and make it into the Sixth Borough.

DISCLAIMER: While I have been to Orlando and Tampa, I have never been to Miami; therefore, all of this information is secondhand. However, I have based it on information from local sources, including the Marlins’ own website, so it is presumably accurate and up-to-date.

Before You Go.  It's South Florida: Presume that it will be hot, and that it will be rainy. This is why the new ballpark has a retractable roof.  Most likely, it will be closed.  Check the Miami Herald website for their local forecast before you go.

Getting There. It’s 1,283 miles from Times Square in New York to downtown Miami.  Knowing this distance, your first reaction is going to be to fly down there. This is not a horrible idea, as the flight is just 3 hours, but you’ll still have to get from the airport to wherever your hotel is. If you’re trying to get from the airport to downtown, you’ll need to change buses – or change from a bus to Miami’s Tri-Rail rapid transit service. And it is possible, if you order quickly, to find nonstop flights for under $600 round-trip.

The train is not a very good idea, because you’ll have to leave Penn Station on Amtrak’s Silver Star at 11:02 AM and arrive in Miami at 6:05 the next day’s evening, a 31-hour ride. The return trip will leave at 8:20 AM and return to New York at 11:06 AM, “only” 27 hours – no, there’s no time-zone change involved. Round-trip, it’ll cost $364. And the station isn’t all that close, at 8303 NW 37th Avenue. Fortunately, there’s a Tri-Rail station there that will take you downtown.

How about Greyhound? There are 5 buses leaving Port Authority every day with connections to Miami, only one of them nonstop, the 10:30 PM to 4:20 AM (2 days later) version. The rest require you to change buses in Richmond and Orlando. (I don't know about changing buses in Orlando, but I have changed buses in Richmond, and I can tell you: It is not fun.) The ride, including the changeovers, takes about 30 hours. Round-trip fare is $318, but you can get it for $218 advanced-purchase. The station is at 4111 NW 27th Street and, ironically, is right across 42nd Avenue from the airport. It’s worth the fact that it’ll cost twice as much to simply fly down. Plus, you might be reminded of the end of the movie Midnight Cowboy, and nobody wants to be reminded of that.

If you want to drive, it'll help to get someone to go down with you, and take turns driving. You’ll be going down Interstate 95 (or its New Jersey equivalent, the Turnpike) almost the whole way. It’ll be about 2 hours from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Delaware Memorial Bridge, 20 minutes in Delaware, and an hour and a half in Maryland, before crossing the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, at the southern tip of the District of Columbia, into Virginia. Then it will be 3 hours or so in Virginia, another 3 hours in North Carolina, about 3 hours and 15 minutes in South Carolina, a little under 2 hours in Georgia, and about 6 hours and 15 minutes in Florida before you reach downtown Miami. Given rest stops, preferably in one in each State from Maryland to Georgia and 2 in Florida, you’re talking about a 28-hour trip.

Tickets. Last season, the Marlins averaged 27,400 fans per game – an increase of 9,000 per game last season, despite their awful season, due entirely to moving from the suburban stadium they shared with the Dolphins and into the new Marlins Park.  Although they opened strong as an expansion franchise in 1993 with 37,838, and were doing well in 1994 with 33,695 before the strike hit, only in their 1997 World Championship season, 29,190, and in, this season, have they since topped 24,000. Even in their World Championship season of 2003, they averaged just 16,290. Although Sun Life Stadium (the 7th name the facility has had in its 24 years of operation) has 75,192 seats for football and, during World Series play, topped out at 67,498, much of the upper deck was tarped off, and official baseball capacity was 38,560, turning what could be the largest stadium in the majors into one of the smallest.  And still, they couldn't sell it out.

Official capacity of Marlins Park is 36,742 -- and that was still 9,000 short of capacity.  This year, they're down to 19,586, a little more than half-full.  So getting tickets will probably not be problem: Pretty much anything you can afford will be available.

Base Reserved seats go for $65.  Baseline Reserved are $40.  Bullpen Reserved, in the outfield, are $25.  In the upper deck, Vista Boxes are $25 and $20, and Vista Reserved are $20 and $13.

Going In. A lot of people don't realize it, because Miami is Florida's most famous city, but the most populous city in the State is Jacksonville.  However, while Miami has about 400,000 people within the city limits, there are 5.5 million living in the metro area, making it far and away the largest in the South, not counting Texas.

Because Florida is so hot, and air-conditioning didn't become common until the mid-20th Century, Miami was founded rather late by the standards of the East coast, in 1825, and wasn't incorporated as a city until 1896.  The name is derived from the Mayaimi tribe of Native Americans. Miami Avenue is the east-west divider, Flagler Street the north-south.

The official address of Marlins Park is 1390 NW 6th Street.  It's between 4th and 6th Streets, and 14th and 16th Avenues.  Three of these streets have specialized names for the stretches that border the park: 16th Avenue is Marlins Way; 4th Street is Bobby Maduro Drive, after the Cuban baseball executive who was forced to flee his native land during Fidel Castro's revolution and had the old Miami minor-league stadium named in his honor; and 6th Street is Felo Ramirez Drive, after the legendary baseball and boxing announcer who has been the main Spanish radio voice of the Marlins from day one in 1993, and is a winner of the Baseball Hall of Fame's Ford Frick Award for broadcasters.

Since 1984, Miami has had a rapid-transit rail service, Metrorail.  However, the ballpark isn't all that close to it.  You will need to take the Number 7 bus from downtown.  The fare for the Metrorail and the Metrobus is $2.00.

Due to South Florida’s climate – the city probably gets more rain than any other in the major leagues, including Seattle – the ballpark was built with a retractable roof, going from the 1st base side across to left field.

The park points southeast, but is west of downtown, so you can't really see Miami's skyline from inside.  Which is too bad, because Miami is undergoing a building boom, including the "Biscayne Wall" along the waterfront.  The seats are all a bright blue.

Marlins Park is 344 feet down the left field line, 386 to left-center, 420 to the furthest point, the left-center "Bermuda Trinagle," 418 to straightaway center, 392 to right-center, and 335 down the right field line. Every bit as much as the Dolphins' stadium, this is a pitcher’s park. The longest home run in it is a 462-footer by Giancarlo Stanton last year.  Andres Galarraga, as a Colorado Rockie, hit the longest at Joe Robbie Stadium, 529 feet in 1997.
There's funky (or tacky, depending on how you look at it) artwork all over the place, including the tropic-themed Home Run Sculpture in left field.  And then there's "The Clevelander." Something the Marlins captured during their 1997 World Series win over the Indians, maybe? Nope, it's something they call "South Beach Comes to the Ballpark!" They have a poolside bar and grill, restricted to fans age 21 and over.  In other words, it's the Arizona Diamondback's right-center-field pool kicked up a notch.  It's something that does not belong at a ballpark.

Food. With a great Hispanic, and especially Cuban, heritage, and also being in Southeastern Conference country (hello, tailgating), you would expect the baseball team in Miami to have great food at their stadium.  They certainly go heavy on the regional cuisine at Taste of Miami, behind Section 27: Cuban sandwiches, Pan con Lechon, Chicharron, Fish Ceviche, Cuban coffee and Mariquitas.  This is not to be confused with the Miami Mex taco stand at Section 4.

Burger 305 (named for the city's original Area Code) has several stands, and includes a "Miami Shrimp Burger." There's 3 Sir Pizza stands -- after all, what would Miami be without Italian senior citizens? There is a Kosher Korner at Section 1 -- after all, what would Miami be without Jewish senior citizens? Brother Jimmy's BBQ, introduced to New York sports at the new Yankee Stadium, is at Section 8.

Team History Displays. Not much, although they do celebrate their 20th Anniversary this season. They hang outfield banners for their 1997 and 2003 World Championships, their only trips to the postseason. The only retired number they ever had was for Carl Barger, their team president, who organized the team for the start of the 1993 season and then died right before it. He was a friend of Joe DiMaggio, who lived in nearby Hollywood, Florida, and threw out the first ball at the Marlins’ first game. In Barger’s memory, and in connection with his friendship with the Yankee Clipper, Huizenga retired Number 5 for Barger, who never wore it – not even for fun.  But last year, it was unretired, and awarded to highly-rated prospect Logan Morrison.  So, now, the only retired number they recognize is the universally-retired Number 42 of Jackie Robinson.

The team did honor Barger with a plaque, but that's hardly the same thing, unless it's part of a team Hall of Fame display, which they don't have: Not a display, nor a team Hall of Fame.  Nor even an all-time team as chosen by the fans, although, with next year being the team's 20th Anniversary, that may come.

There are 2 players who played for the Marlins who are in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown: Miami native Andre Dawson, and former manager Tony Perez, both of whom currently work in the Marlin organization.  It should be noted, though, that Perez never played for the Marlins, and Dawson only did so for the last 2 years of his career, a grand total of 121 games.  They have as many broadcasters "in the Hall of Fame" as they do uniformed personnel: Felo Ramirez, and Dave Van Horne, who came down from the Montreal Expos when Jeffrey Loria essentially moved the Expos' organization, if not its players, in 2002.

Stuff. The Marlins have team stores in the stadium, but nothing out of the ordinary: Caps, jerseys, T-shirts, bats, gloves, stuffed Billy the Marlin dolls.

A few books have been written for the Marlins, and may be available in the team stores. Dan Schlossberg, Miami Herald columnist Dave Barr, Kevin Baxter and Marlin star Jeff Conine collaborated on Miracle Over Miami: How the 2003 Marlins Shocked the World. Jenny Reese wrote The History of the Florida Marlins, published in 2010.

One book you will almost certainly not see in the stores is Dave Rosenbaum’s book about how original owner Huizenga “went all in” to win the 1997 World Series, then broke the team up, going from 92-70 that season to 54-108 the next, having practically come out and told everyone that a 100-plus-loss next season was likely. The title of the book? If They Don’t Win It’s a Shame. (Yeah, tell that to the Giants, who they beat in the NLDS and who had never yet won a Series in San Francisco; and to the Indians, who blew a 9th-inning lead in Game 7 of the Series and still haven’t won a Series since 1948.)

Although the Marlins have won 2 World Series and have been around for nearly 20 years now, there is, as yet, no commemorative DVD of their World Series highlight films, and no The Essential Games of the Florida Marlins DVD.

During the Game. South Florida is loaded with people who came from elsewhere, including ex-New Yorkers. The stereotype is that, when a New Yorker gets old, if he has enough money to do so, he moves to Miami. Especially if he’s Jewish. Or Italian. As a result, you may see a lot of Met fans, few of whom switched to the Marlins. You may run into a few Yankee Fans who adopted the Marlins are their “second team” or their “National League team,” although how many of them kept that status after the 2003 World Series is debatable.  (Blast you, Jeff Weaver – Alex Gonzalez sure did.)

I don't know if your safety will be an issue. The new ballpark, on the site of the Orange Bowl, is in a questionable neighborhood.  However, if you leave your car at the hotel and take the bus in, the police presence will probably mean you're protected from the local criminal element.  As for the Marlin fans, you will almost certainly be fine. Miamians might fight if they’re at a Dolphins game -- or a University of Miami Hurricanes game, especially against the University of Florida or Florida State -- and provoked by visiting fans, but not at a Marlins game.

The Marlins’ mascot is Billy the Marlin, whose name was chosen by Huizenga because a Marlin is a “billfish” – and it has nothing to do with Billy Martin, in spite of the character’s large nose. Billy sometimes “water-skis” in behind a golf cart built to look like a boat. Any resemblance to Richie Cunningham driving the boat that allowed the Fonz to jump the shark on Happy Days is strictly coincidental.

Worse than a dopey mascot, the Marlins have cheerleaders. No, I’m not making this up: They are the one MLB team with cheerleaders. Or, as they would put it, a dance/cheer team. The Marlins Mermaids debuted in 2003.

As noted Phillies fan Bill Cosby would say, “Don’t ever say, ‘It can’t get any worse. It can always get worse!’” In 2008, the team debuted the Marlins Manatees, an all-male “dance/energy squad” who perform alongside the Mermaids. You want to blame the Yankees for having the grounds crew dance to “YMCA,” go ahead, that’s one “Yankee Tradition” I don’t like, anyway; but this, as noted Met fan Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman on The Odd Couple) would say, is as ridiculous as Aristophanes.

The Marlins do not have a regular song to play in the 7th inning stretch after "Take Me Out to the Ball Game." Nor do they have a postgame victory song.  It could be worse, they could play Gloria Estefan & Miami Sound Machine.

After the Game.  As I said, the Marlins Park area is a bit rough.  My advice is to get back downtown as soon as possible, and either look for a nightspot there, or get across the Causeways to Miami Beach, or stay in your hotel and try their bar.

I checked for area bars where New Yorkers gather, and found one for each of the city’s NFL teams.  J.C. Wahoo’s Sports Bar and Grill is supposedly the home of the South Florida fan club of the Giants. But it’s at 3128 N. Federal Highway (yes, the same U.S. Route 1 that goes through The Bronx and New Jersey) between Northeast 31st and 32nd Streets, 40 miles north of downtown – further north than Fort Lauderdale, or even Pompano Beach, almost up to Boca Raton. It’s not even all that close to the Dolphins' stadium.

The South Florida Jets Fan Club meets at Hammerjack’s, at 5325 S. University Drive in Davie, 24 miles north of downtown, although a plausible destination for when the Jets go down there.  American Social supposedly caters to fans of the Yankees, Giants and Knicks, but it's at 721 East Las Olas Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale, 28 miles north.

Sidelights. Miami’s sports history is long, but aside from football, not all that involved.  Marlins Park is, as I said, on the stadium known as Burdine Stadium from its 1937 opening until 1959 and the Miami Orange Bowl thereafter.  It was best known for hosting the Orange Bowl game on (or close to) every New Year’s Day from 1938 to 1995, and the NFL's Miami Dolphins from their debut in 1966 until 1986.

It was home to the University of Miami football team from 1937 to 2007 (famed for its fake-smoke entrances out of the tunnel).  It was also the home of, if you count the All-America Football Conference of the 1940s, the first "major league" team in any of the former Confederate States: The 1946 Miami Seahawks.  But the black players on the Cleveland Browns would not accept being housed away from their white teammates in segregated Florida, and in that league, what the Browns wanted, the Browns got.  So the Seahawks (in no way connected the NFL's Seattle team of the same name) were moved to become the Baltimore Colts after just 1 season.

The Orange Bowl also hosted the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl, a game involving the 2nd-place teams in each of the NFL’s divisions from 1960 to 1969, a charity game, a glorified exhibition game.  Also known as the Playoff Bowl, it was considered so lame that Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi publicly called it “the only game I never want to win” – and he didn’t.  The stadium also hosted the Miami Toros of the North American Soccer League from 1972 to 1976.

And it hosted 5 Super Bowls, most notably (from a New York perspective) Super Bowl III, when the Jets beat the Colts in one of the greatest upsets in sports history, on January 12, 1969. Super Bowl XIII, in 1979, was the last Super Bowl to be held there; all subsequent South Florida Super Bowls, including the one the Giants won in 2012, Super Bowl XLVI, have been held at the Dolphins’ stadium.

The Orange Bowl was where the Dolphins put together what remains the NFL’s only true undefeated season, in 1972. The Canton Bulldogs had gone undefeated and untied in 1922, but there was no NFL Championship Game in those days. The Chicago Bears lost NFL Championship Games after going undefeated and untied in the regular seasons of 1932 and ’42. And the Browns went undefeated and untied in the 1948 AAFC season, but that’s not the NFL. The Dolphins capped their perfect season by winning Super Bowl VII, and then Super Bowl VIII. And yet, despite having reached the Super Bowl 5 times, and Miami having hosted 10 of them, the Dolphins have never played in a Super Bowl in their home region. (They’ve done so in New Orleans, Houston, San Francisco, and twice in Los Angeles.)

They also haven’t been to one in 29 seasons, which includes all of their history in their new stadium. Curse of Joe Robbie, anyone? Which brings me to...

* Sun Life Stadium.  Better known by its original name, Joe Robbie Stadium, after the Dolphins' original owner (although legendary entertainer Danny Thomas also had a stake in the team in its first few years).  The Marlins reached the postseason here twice, in 1997 and 2003, and won the World Series both times.  In other words, they've never lost a postseason series.  Contrast that with the Dolphins: Only once, in their first 26 seasons in the Dolphin Tank, have they even reached the AFC Championship Game (January 1993, and they lost at home to the Bills).

But don't think that the stadium was better for the Marlins: It was a football stadium, with a baseball field wedged into it, and not really adequate for the horsehide game.  It is, however, still regarded as one of the better stadiums in the NFL, despite having been built before Camden Yards rewrote the rules of stadium construction.

Now that the Marlins are out, the official address of the stadium is 347 Don Shula Drive, for the number of games Shula was as an NFL head coach -- although that counts the postseason, and the games he won as boss of the Colts.  (But not Super Bowl III, which he lost as coach of the Colts.) It's between NW 199th and 203rd Streets (199th is renamed Dan Marino Blvd.), and NW 21st and 26th Avenues.  Take Metrorail toward Palmetto, and get off at the Martin Luther King Jr. station. (I doubt if a sports stadium in the Miami suburbs was a part of Dr. King’s dream, although stadiums and performing-arts venues with racially-integrated seating, particularly in the South, sure were.)

* Comfort Inn. This hotel, across 36th Street from the airport, was the site of the Playhouse, once considered one of South Florida’s finest banquet halls. It was here, on January 9, 1969, 3 days before the Super Bowl, at a dinner organized by the Miami Touchdown Club, that Joe Namath of the Jets was speaking, and some drunken Colts fan yelled out, “Hey, Namath! We’re gonna kick your ass on Sunday!” And Joe said, “Let me tell you something: We got a good team. And we’re gonna win. I guarantee it!” He was right. NW 36th Street between Curtiss Parkway and Deer Run. MetroRail toward Palmetto, to Allapattah Station, then transfer to the 36 Bus.

* Site of Miami Stadium. Also known as Bobby Maduro Stadium, this was the home of the original Miami Marlins, of the Florida State League. Seating 13,000, it was known for its Art Deco entrance and a roof that shielded nearly the entire seating area, to protect fans from the intense Miami weather.

The FSL team that played here was known as the Sun Sox from 1949 to 1954, the Marlins from 1956 to 1960, the Marlins again 1962 to 1970, the Miami Orioles 1971 to 1981, and the Marlins again from 1982 to 1988.  It was the spring training home of the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1950 to 1957, the Dodgers in their first season in Los Angeles in 1958 (it can be said that “the Los Angeles Dodgers” played their first game here, not in California), and the Baltimore Orioles from 1959 to 1990.

The FSL Pennant was won there 7 times: 1950, 1952 (Sun Sox), 1969, 1970 (old Marlins), 1971, 1972 and 1978 (Orioles).

It was demolished in 2001, and The Miami Stadium Apartments were built on the site. 2301 NW 10th Avenue, off 23rd Street. It’s just off I-95, and 8 blocks north and east from the Santa Clara MetroRail station.

* American Airlines Arena. The "Triple-A" has been the home of the NBA’s Miami Heat since 2000, including their 2006 and 2012 NBA Championship seasons.  601 Biscayne Blvd. (U.S. Routes 1 & 41), between NE 6th and 8th Streets, across Port Blvd. from the Bayside Marketplace shopping center (not exactly their version of the South Street Seaport) and the Miami outlets of Hooters, the Hard Rock Café and Bubba Gump Shrimp. The closest rapid-rail station is Overtown – ironically, the same stop for the previous sports arena…

* Site of Miami Arena. Home of the Heat from their 1988 debut until 1999 (the new arena opened on Millennium Eve, December 31, 1999), and the NHL’s Florida Panthers from their 1993 debut to 1998, this building was demolished in 2008. Only 20 years? Apparently, like the multipurpose stadiums of the 1960s and ‘70s, and the Meadowlands Arena and (soon?) the Nassau Coliseum, it served its purpose – getting teams to come in – and then quickly became inadequate.

Nevertheless, when the Overtown race riot happened in January 1989, just before Super Bowl XXIII, area residents took great pains to protect this arena from damage (and the Miami area from the public-relations nightmare that would have occurred had there been a riot during Super Bowl week), and succeeded.  701 Arena Blvd., between Miami Avenue, NW 1st Avenue, and 6th and 8th Streets. Overtown/Arena rail station.

* BB&T Center. The home of the Panthers since 1998, and there’s a reason the team is called “Florida” instead of “Miami”: The arena is 34 miles northwest of downtown Miami, and 14 miles west of downtown Fort Lauderdale, in a town called Sunrise. 1 Panther Parkway, at NW 136th . If you don’t have a car, you’d have to take the 195 Bus to Fort Lauderdale, and then the 22 Bus out to the building, named for Branch Banking & Trust Corporation.

* Sports Immortals Museum.  This museum is in Boca Raton, at 6830 N. Federal Highway (Route 1), 50 miles north of downtown Miami.  It's got a statue of Babe Ruth, and some memorabilia on display.  However, some people have reported that much of the memorabilia they sell has been judged to be fake by authenticators, so buyer beware.  Theoretically, it's reachable by public transportation from Miami, but you'd need to take a bus to a train to a bus to a bus (32 to Tri-Rail to 70 to 1), and it would take about 3 hours.  If you don't have the time to make for this, by car or otherwise, skip it.

* Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital.  For the last 30 or so years of his life, the Yankee Clipper lived in South Florida, and while he pretty much ignored his one and only child, son Joe Jr., he adored his grandchildren and children in general.  He was a heavy donor to local hospitals, and the Children's Hospital named for him was established in 1992.  There is now a statue of him there.  1005 Joe DiMaggio Drive, Hollywood. about 20 miles north of downtown Miami.  22 bus to Hollywood Tri-Rail station, then a mile's walk.

* Miami Beach Convention Center. Opened in 1957, it seats 15,000 people. The American Basketball Association’s Miami Floridians played here from 1968 to 1972. The 1968 Republican Convention, and both major parties’ Conventions in 1972, were held here. Why? Simple, they wanted to be away from downtown, putting water between themselves and wherever the hippies and another antiwar demonstrators were staying.

This building hosted the heavyweight title fights of 1961 (Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson III, Floyd won) and 1964 (Cassius Clay-Sonny Liston I, Clay winning and then changing his name to Muhammad Ali).  Just 9 days before Ali forced his “total eclipse of the Sonny,” on February 16, 1964, the Beatles played their 2nd full-length U.S. concert here. (A photo exists of the Beatles visiting Ali at his Miami training center, and he knocks the 4 of them over like dominoes.) Elvis Presley gave a pair of concerts here on September 12, 1970.

Convention Center Drive between 17th Street and Dade Blvd. The Jackie Gleason Theater, where “The Great One” taped his 1960s version of The Jackie Gleason Show (including a revival of The Honeymooners) is next-door. This, and any other Miami Beach location, can be reached via the 103, 113 or 119 Bus, or car, over the MacArthur Causeway.

* Coconut Grove Convention Center. This former Pan Am hangar, attached to the Dinner Key Marina, has been used as a Naval Air Station, convention center, concert hall and sports arena (the Floridians played a few home games here). It’s also been known as the Dinner Key Auditorium. On March 1, 1969, The Doors gave a concert here, and lead singer Jim Morrison supposedly committed an indecent act there. (Yeah, he told the crowd, “I’m from Florida! I went to Florida State! Then I got smart and moved to California!”) Pan American Drive at 27th Avenue. Number 102 Bus to Number 48.

* Gusman Center for the Performing Arts. Formerly the Olympic Theater, Elvis sang here early in his career, on August 3 and 4, 1956. 174 E. Flagler Street, downtown.

Several TV shows have been set in Miami. A restaurant called Jimbo’s Place was used to film scenes from Flipper and Miami Vice, and more recently CSI: Miami and Burn Notice. It’s at 4201 Rickenbacker Causeway in Key Biscayne, accessible by the Causeway (by car) and the 102 Bus (by public transportation). Greenwich Studios has been used to film Miami Vice, True Lies, There’s Something About Mary and The Birdcage. It’s at 16th Avenue between 121st and 123rd Streets, in North Miami, and often stands in for Miami Beach for the TV shows and movies for which it’s used. 93 Bus.

If you’re a fan of The Golden Girls, you won’t find the house used for the exterior shots: It’s actually in Los Angeles.  If you're a fan of those not-quite-golden girls, the Kardashian sisters, the penthouse they use to tape the Miami edition of their "reality show" is on Ocean Drive between 1st and 2nd Streets in Miami Beach.

*

You don't have to be old to be a New Yorker in Miami -- but it helps to be a sports fan. Who knows, the Mets might even get a little bit of revenge for those season-ending series of 2007 and '08.

Rays Beat Yanks But Shame On Their Fans

Andy Pettitte pitched well enough to win last night.  But the Yankee bats didn't back him up.

The Hooded Hawk went 6 innings, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 7 hits and 1 walk, striking out 10.  Shawn Kelly relieved him, going 2 scoreless innings.

But Alex Cobb, whom the Yankees had faced 3 times before, all last season, going 2-1 against him, pitched better for the Tampa Bay Rays.  He pitched into the 9th, allowing only 3 hits and a walk, and Fernando Rodney finished the 4-hit shutout.  Brett Gardner, Ichiro Suzuki, Eduardo Nunez and Jayson Nix all singled. That's it: 4 total bases.

Rays 3, Yankees 0.  WP: Cobb (3-1).  SV: Rodney (3).  LP: Pettitte (also 3-1).

If the Yankees lose, and no one's there to see it, does it still count in the standings?

Attendance for these 3 games at Tropicana Field was 15,331, 17,644 and 19,177.  Total: 52,152.  Or, what the Yankees, at the old Yankee Stadium, used to call "one game." (The new Stadium's capacity is about 2,000 smaller than that.)

So far, even with those 3 games, the Rays are averaging just 21,322 fans per game.  That's over 12 home games.  Opening Day brought out 34,078.  Take out Opening Day and the 3 against the Yankees, and the average is 21,204 -- so the Yankees, who bring in New Yorkers current and former, aren't helping much this season.

Here's the Rays' per-season attendance, compared with the number of games they finished out of the Playoff hunt (behind the Wild Card winner, or the AL East winner if it had fewer wins than the Wild Card winner), preceded by a minus sign, or a mention that they made the Playoffs:

1998 30,942 -29 (first season, after years of teams talking about moving to Tampa Bay)
1999 21,601 -25
2000 18,000 -18
2001 16,026 -33
2002 13,158 -44
2003 13,070 -32
2004 16,139 -31
2005 14,052 -28
2006 16,901 -34
2007 17,148 -28
2008 22,259 AL East Champions
2009 23,147 -11
2010 23,025 AL East Champions
2011 18,879 AL Wild Card
2012 19,255 -3
2013 21,322 so far

So, setting aside the first 2 seasons, when there could still be said to be a novelty factor, actually being in a Playoff race for the first time (2008) was only worth 9,101 fans per game over a season in which they lost 106 games.

Again, taking out the first 2 seasons, in their 8 bad years they averaged 15,562 fans per game; in their 5 good years, 21,313.

Keep in mind: A lot of teams didn't do well on the field last year, but did much better than the Rays at the box office.  I won't even count the Miami Marlins, who opened a new ballpark, which probably accounted for the bulk of their average attendance of 27,400; no way the stripped-down roster, slapped on them by their cheapskate owner, will approach that this season.  And the Mets, well, they officially got 28,035; how many of those ticket-buyers actually showed up at Citi Field was another matter; I saw one game there last season, and attendance was announced as 21,205 but I doubt it was even half that.

But these teams' fans had a lot more excuse to not show up than Rays' fans, and look:

* The Philadelphia Phillies missed the Playoffs for the first time in 6 years, and had injuries that kept their 3 biggest offensive stars (Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Chase Utley) out of the lineup for long stretches, including all 3 at once for a while.  And they averaged 44,021 -- they sold out just about every game.

* The Boston Red Sox lost 93 games, their worst performance in 46 years, and they averaged 37,567 -- they sold out just about every game.

* The Chicago Cubs lost 101 games.  In spite of their legendary loser status, they hadn't lost 100 games in 46 years.  And they still averaged 35,589.

* The Minnesota Twins lost 96 games, aside from the previous year (99 losses), their worst performance in 14 years, and they averaged 34,275.

* The Colorado Rockies lost 98 games, and still averaged 32,474.

* The Toronto Blue Jays lost 89 games, and they averaged 25,921.

* The San Diego Padres lost 86 games, and still averaged 21,258.

* The Houston Astros lost 106 games, a year after losing 107, the first 2 100-loss seasons in the club's half-century of play.  They were 33 games behind the 2nd Wild Card.  And they still averaged 19,848 fans per home game, 593 more than the Rays.

* And the Cleveland Indians lost 94 games, and Northern Ohio has been hit really hard, first by the Bush Recession, and now by the Kasich Austerity.  And they still averaged 19,797 fans per home game, 542 more than the Rays, who've been at least in the Playoff race 5 seasons in a row coming into this one.

Let me cite one more: We hear how the people of Montreal did not support the Expos, especially after their great 1994 season was cut short by the strike, which affected all of baseball negatively, but probably doomed the franchise to being moved 10 years later.

Yet in 1995, despite finishing dead last in the NL East, the Expos averaged 18,189 -- almost as many as the Rays did in a Wild Card year.  In 1996, the Expos won 88 -- they wouldn't match that again until last year as the Washington Nationals -- and drew 19,959.  In 1997, they lost 84, and drew 18,489.

In 2009, with the Expos/Nationals in their 5th season in Washington and their 2nd season in Nationals Park, but losing 103 games, a year after losing 102, the novelty of having a major league team again, and the novelty of having a nice new ballpark, should have both worn off.  Yet they averaged 22,435 per game -- a figure the Rays, after their 1st season, have topped only twice.  The Nats lost 103 games, yet get more fans than the Rays got in 2008 when they won the Division, and 3,600 more than the Rays got in 2011 when they won the Wild Card.

So what has winning meant to the Rays, in terms of fan support? For all intents and purposes, nothing.

Maybe it's the stadium? Is Tropicana Field really that bad? It is a dopey-looking place.  But the only way to find out for sure is to build the Rays a new ballpark.  Preferably one closer to the center of the Tampa Bay metropolitan area.  The Trop is about a mile west of the business center of St. Petersburg, but 24 miles southwest of downtown Tampa, across the bay and 2 bridges, one so traffic-jammed it's known as the Car-Strangled Spanner.  Compare that with the Tampa Bay Times Forum, home of the NHL's Lightning, which is a 5-minute walk from downtown Tampa and next to a major shopping mall that allows easy access for people wanting a pre- or post-game meal or snack.

But why should the City of Tampa, the County of Hillsborough, or the State of Florida build a new stadium for a team that the locals aren't supporting anyway? It's a bet that the fans will come out to a better stadium in a better location.  But it's a pretty expensive bet to lose, especially if the team ends up moving anyway, and you're stuck with a new stadium and nobody to play in it.  Concerts, March Madness and bowl games will only give you so much revenue; you need a regular tenant.

Maybe it's the fan base itself? There's a lot of people there who moved from elsewhere, rooting for other teams.  Particularly the Yankees (who train in Tampa and used to train in St. Petersburg, and there's a lot of ex-New Yorkers there), the Mets (who also used to train in St. Pete and would bring in ex-New Yorkers if the Rays were an NL East team), the St. Louis Cardinals (who also used to train in St. Pete) and the Cincinnati Reds (who used to train in Tampa).

In addition, the Tampa Bay area has that Florida stereotype: A lot of old people.  Maybe they can get to a ballpark by 7:00 PM.  But can they stay awake long enough to watch the game, get to the car, and alertly drive home? If not, can they get someone to drive them there and back? If they can't, why should they go to the game when they can watch it on TV, and, if necessary, fall asleep in their favorite chair? So schedule a lot of day games.  But that means working people and kids can't go.  So what can you do? Drop ticket prices? It's not like the Rays are among the more expensive MLB teams now.

It may be that there's nothing that can be done.

Or maybe the fans should be blamed.  After all, they spent about 20 years, roughly from the time the NFL expanded and announced the Buccaneers in 1973, thus semi-officially announcing Tampa Bay's status as a "major league market," until 1995, when MLB finally announced that the area would get a team, whining about how they got passed over:

* Passed over in 1974, when a new buyer swooped in and bought the San Diego Padres, when they had already announced they were moving, and it was to Washington anyway, not Tampa Bay.

* Passed over in 1975, when the Detroit Tigers announced they were staying in Tiger Stadium, and pretty much said that, if they moved anyway, it would have been just up the freeway to the Pontiac Silverdome.

* Passed over in 1976, when a new buyer swooped in and bought the San Francisco Giants, when they had already announced they were moving, and it was to Toronto anyway, not Tampa Bay.

* Passed over again in 1976, when MLB announced expansion teams for Seattle and Toronto.

* Passed over in 1977, when Charlie Finley announced he was selling the Oakland Athletics to a buyer who would move them not to Tampa Bay, but to Denver -- a deal that ended up collapsing.

* Passed over in 1979, when the Minnesota Twins announced they were building a new stadium, rather than move.

* Passed over in 1987, when the Pittsburgh Pirates announced they weren't moving, and the Baltimore Orioles got a deal to build a new ballpark, and pretty much said that, if they moved anyway, it would have been just down the Parkway to Washington, not Tampa Bay.

* Passed over in 1988, when the Illinois legislature had to engage in shenanigans in order to legally pass a bond issue raising money for a new ballpark, in order to make the Chicago White Sox call off their very sincere threat to move.

* Passed over in 1991, when MLB announced it was expanding to Denver and Miami -- Miami, the city Central Floridians hate the most.

* Passed over in 1992, when a new buyer swooped in and bought the San Francisco Giants, when they had already announced they were moving to Tampa Bay.

* And passed over in 1994, when the Houston Astros announced they were staying, and pretty much said that, if they moved anyway, it would have been to Washington, not Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay got passed over 11 times -- including one occasion when the team had announced it was already moving (the 1992 Giants), and another when the team had said it would move if it didn't get the new ballpark (and those 1988 White Sox came within minutes of not getting it).

And still, they don't appreciate what they've got.

A metropolitan area that does not support a losing team is understandable.

A metropolitan area that does not support a winning team, especially now that the economy has been improving, is inexcusable.

There is only one conclusion: Tampa Bay does not deserve a Major League Baseball team.

In the remainder of this season, MLB officials need to begin the process of talking Rays ownership into moving the team, or selling it to someone who will move it.

There are a few markets that have been trying to get a team.  Up Interstate 4 in Orlando.  Charlotte.  Nashville.  Memphis.  Norfolk.  Buffalo.  Salt Lake City.  Las Vegas.  Portland.  Heck, Montreal already has a stadium that has hosted big-league baseball.

Tampa Bay finally got their team, and they don't even seem to care.

Shame on you, Tampa Bay.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Faux Flashback: How to Be a Met Fan in Montreal

The New Jersey Devils lost on Sunday, to the Rangers.  Of course, the referees lied their way through their calls to favor Gary Bettman's beloved biggest-market Scum against the other team from the biggest market that he hates so much.

I guess it never occurred to him that, for all his game-fixing, he's only been able to get the Rangers one Cup, and that was 19 years ago.

So the Devils are eliminated from Playoff competition.  Well done, Commissioner, you prick.

The Devils' played last night, home to the Montreal Canadiens, winning 3-2.  The Canadiens are still the most successful team in hockey history, winning 24 Stanley Cups -- but none since 1993.  That was in Bettman's first season as Commissioner, and he's never let another Canadian team win the Cup. Canadian teams have gone 0-for-5 in Finals since: Vancouver lost in 1994 and 2011, Calgary in 2004, Edmonton in 2006 and Ottawa in 2007, with all but the Ottawa loss, a 5-game flop with the Senators having nothing against the Anaheim Ducks, being very, very fishy.

The Montreal Alouettes have won Canada's Super Bowl, the Grey Cup, 7 times, including back-to-back Canadian Football League titles in 2009 and '10.

As it happens, as I type this, a soccer "derby" is taking place, between the Montreal Impact and Toronto FC, for the Canadian Championship, albeit in Toronto.

The Montreal Expos, however, no longer exist.  They played from 1969 to 2004, before moving to Washington to become the Nationals.  Their only 1st-place finishes were in strike-shortened seasons, 1981 and 1994.  The first time, they lost a deciding game to the Los Angeles Dodgers, whose owners Walter and then Peter O'Malley owned Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, lock, stock and bad suit.  Then the Expos had the best record in baseball when the Strike of '94 hit, and Commissioner Bud Selig, himself a team owner (the Milwaukee Brewers), canceled the rest of the season, including the postseason.  Conspiracy, anyone?

What was it like to see an Expos game? I reached into my archives, and found this post, from April 7, 2004, just as a new season was about to begin, with the Mets heading up there the following weekend.

(Not really, I didn't start this blog until 2007.  Humor me.)

*

Being in a foreign country has its particular challenges -- and, yes, for all its similarities to America, Canada is still a foreign country.  The French influence will make it more foreign even than Toronto, the only city and metropolitan area in Canada with more people.  But, with 1.6 million people, Montreal has more people than any American city except New York, Los Angeles and Houston.

There are 3.8 million people in the metro area, so, despite the large population within the city limits, it's a smaller market than every Major League Baseball city except the following: Seattle, Minneapolis-St. Paul, St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Baltimore, Denver, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Cleveland and Kansas City.  And then there's the exchange rate, which largely favors the U.S.  Then there's the taxes, which these now-rich ballplayers don't want to pay.  And if the Expos should ever overcome their current doldrums and make the Playoffs again, that will hammer the U.S. TV ratings.  No wonder Commissioner Bud Selig doesn't want a team in Montreal, and has been trying to get them moved to Washington.

(Update: The exchange rate between the two countries did heavily favor the U.S. in 2004, but after a second term of George W. Bush, the dollar lost a lot of value, and the two countries' dollars are now roughly equal.)

Before You Go. Make sure you call your bank and tell them you’re going. After all, Canada may be an English-speaking country (at least co-officially, with French, although Quebec is French-first), and a democracy (if a parliamentary one), and a country with Major League Baseball, but it is still a foreign country. If your bank gets a record of your ATM card making a withdrawal from any country other than the U.S., it may freeze the card, and any other accounts you may have with them. So be sure to let them know that you will, in fact, be in Canada for a little while.

You should have a valid, up-to-date passport, but it is not required.  If you don't have a valid passport, you will need a valid photo ID and a copy of your birth certificate.  This is not something you want to mess with. Canadian Customs officials do not fuck around: They care about their national security, too.

(Update: As of June 1, 2009, you DO need a passport to cross the U.S.-Canadian border.)

Do yourself another big favor: Change your money before you go. There are plenty of currency exchanges in New York City, including one on 42nd Street between 7th and 8th Avenue.

Leave yourself $50 in U.S. cash, especially if you’re going other than by plane, so you’ll have cash on your side of the border.  I was actually in Montreal on the day when it most favored the U.S.: January 18, 2002, 1.60 to 1.00 in our favor.  However, now, in 2004, while the rate does still favor us, it's not nearly as much to our advantage as it was.

(Update: As I said before, the two countries' dollars are now roughly equal.)

The multi-colored bill were confusing on my first visit, although we have those now, too. The $5 is blue, and features Wilfrid Laurier (Prime Minister 1896-1911). The $10 is purple, and features John A. Macdonald (the 1st Prime Minister, 1867-1873 and again 1878-1891, essentially he’s their George Washington without having fought a war for independence). The $20 is green, and features the nation’s head of state, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II. The $50 is red, and features William Lyon Mackenzie King (the longest-serving Prime Minister, 1921-1926, 1926-1930, 1935-1948, including World War II). And the $100 is yellow, and features Robert Borden (Prime Minister 1911-1920, including World War I).

The tricky part is going to be the coins – and you’ll thank me for telling you this, but keep your U.S. coins and your Canadian coins separate, for the simple reason that their penny, nickel, dime and quarter are all the same colors and just about the same size as our respective coins. (To make matters more confusing, as we recently did with our States, they had a Provincial quarter series.)

All coins have Queen Elizabeth’s portrait on the front, but she’s been Queen since 1952, and depending on how old the coin is, you might get a young woman, or her current 78-year-old self, or anything in between. You might even get a penny or a nickel old enough to feature her father, King George VI. Such a coin is still legal tender, however.

They have a $1 coin, copper-colored, bigger than a quarter, and 11-sided, with a bird on the back. This bird is a loon – not to be confused with the people lunatic enough to buy Maple Leafs season tickets. The coin is thus called the “loonie,” although they don’t say “ten loonies”: They use “buck” for “dollar” the way we would.  In fact, the term is connected to Canada: Their first English settlers were the Hudson’s Bay Company, and they set the value of a dollar to the price of the pelt of a male beaver, the male of the species being called, as are those of a deer and a rabbit, a buck. (And the female, a doe.) The nation’s French-speakers (Francophones) use the French word for loon, and call it a “huard,” but since the Montreal Expos are gone, you probably won’t hear that term unless you’re a hockey fan and go to see the Rangers, Devils or Islanders in Montreal – or maybe Ottawa, which is on the Ontario-Quebec border and has a lot of French-first-speakers.

Then there’s the $2 coin, or “toonie.” It’s not just two dollars, it’s two-toned, and even two-piece. It’s got a copper center, with the Queen on the front and a polar bear on the back, and a nickel ring around it. This coin is about the size of the Eisenhower silver dollars we used to have. This is the coin that drives me bonkers when I’m up there.

My suggestion is that, when you first get your money changed before you begin your trip, ask for $1 coins but no $2 coins. It’s just simpler. I like Canada a lot, but their money, yikes, eh?

This is Canada, the Great White North, so if you're going in April, it may still feel like winter, especially if the wind is blasting off Lake Ontario.  So even though the Olympic Stadium roof is closed, you should pack a winter jacket. If you're going from May onward, even in late September, it will probably be warm enough to not bring any jacket, but bring a light one just in case.

Getting There. The best way is by plane. Air Canada runs flights out of Newark Liberty, John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia International Airport, and the flight takes about an hour and a half.  Book on Air Canada today, and you can get a round-trip flight for around US$565.  On an American carrier (including, but not necessarily, American Airlines), it will be closer to double that.

(Update: Round-trip, non-stop fare to Montreal on Air Canada will now run you over $1,200.)

Greyhound runs 5 buses a day from Port Authority Bus Terminal to Autobus Greyhound, at 1717 Rue Berri at Boulevard de Maisonneuve.  (Countries in the British Commonwealth, including Canada, call a local bus a bus and an inter-city bus a “coach.”) The ride averages about 8 hours, and is $162 round-trip -- although an advance purchase can drop it to under $100.  The terminal is big and clean, and you shouldn’t have any difficulties with it. It's got a stairway leading to the Berri-UQAM (University of Quebec at Montreal) Metro station.

(Update: It's now $226, but advance purchase can drop it to $124.)

Amtrak, however, runs just one train, the Adirondack, in each direction each day between New York and Montreal, in cooperation with Canada’s equivalent, VIA Rail. This train leaves Pennsylvania Station at 8:15 AM and arrives at Gare Centrale (Central Station) at 7:06 PM, a trip of 10 hours and 51 minutes.  The return trip leaves Montreal at 9:30 AM and gets back to Penn Station at 8:35 PM. So if, for example (one that fits this upcoming series), you leave New York on a Friday morning for a weekend Mets-Expos-Jays series, you’ll only get in the Saturday game.

So, while Gare Centrale, bounded by Rue de la Gauchetiere, Rue University, Rue Belmont and Rue Mansfield, is in the heart of the city, taking Amtrak/VIA to Montreal is not particularly convenient. Especially since the Adirondack, with its views of the Hudson River and Lake Champlain, is one of Amtrak’s most popular routes, and it could sell out. If you still want to try it, it’s US$144 round-trip.

If you’re driving, it’s 367 miles from Times Square to downtown Montreal. Get into New Jersey to State Route 17, and take it all the way across the State Line to the New York State Thruway, Interstate 87.  Remain on I-87 through Albany, after which it becomes the Adirondack Northway, all the way up to the border.

When you get to the border, you'll be asked your citizenship, and you'll have to show your passport and your photo ID. You'll be asked why you're visiting Canada. Seeing a Mets vs. Expos game, or even a hockey game between your favorite team and the Canadiens, probably won't (but might) get you a smart-aleck remark about how the Expos/Habs  are going to win, but they won't keep you out of their country based on that alone.

If you're bringing a computer with you (counting a laptop, but probably not counting a smartphone), you don't have to mention it, but you probably should. Chances are, you won't be carrying a large amount of food or plants; if you were, depending on how much, you might have to declare them.

Chances are, you won't be bringing alcohol into the country, but you can bring in ONE of the following items duty-free, and anything above or in addition to this must have duty paid on it: 1.5 litres (53 ounces) of wine, or 8.5 litres (300 ounces or 9.375 quarts) of beer or ale, or 1.14 litres (40 ounces) of hard liquor.  If you have the slightest suspicion that I'm getting any of these numbers wrong, check the Canada Customs website.  Better yet, don't bring booze in. Or out.

As for tobacco, well, you shouldn't use it. But, either way over the border, you can bring up to 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars, and 200 grams (7 ounces) of manufactured tobacco. What you cannot bring from Canada back into the U.S. is Cuban-made cigars. They are still illegal to even possess in the U.S.  So you need to note that President Obama hasn't had that law changed, or dropped the embargo against Cuba; if he is a Communist or a Socialist, that's yet another reason why he's not very good at it.

If you've got anything in your car (or, if going by bus or train) that could be considered a weapon, even if it's a disposable razor or nail clippers, tell them. And while Canada does have laws that allow you to bring in firearms if you're a licensed hunter (you'd have to apply for a license to the Province where you plan to hunt), the country has the proper attitude concerning guns: They hate them. They go absolutely batshit insane if you try to bring a firearm into their country. Which, if you're sane, is actually the sane way to treat the issue.

You think I'm being ridiculous? How about this: Seven of the 43 U.S. Presidents -- 9 counting the Roosevelts, Theodore after he was President and Franklin right before -- have faced assassins with guns, 6 got hit and 4 died; but none of the 21 people (including 1 woman) to serve as Prime Minister of Canada has ever faced an assassination attempt. John Lennon recorded "Give Peace a Chance" in Montreal and gave his first "solo concert" in Toronto, but he got shot and killed in New York. In fact, the next time I visit, I half-expect to see a bumper sticker that says, "GUNS DON'T KILL PEOPLE, AMERICANS WITH GUNS KILL PEOPLE."

(Update: It's now 44 Presidents, and 22 Prime Ministers.)

(Another note about weapons: I’m a fan of the TV show NCIS, which airs in Canada on Global Network TV. If you are also a fan of this show, and you usually observe Gibbs Rule Number 9, "Never go anywhere without a knife," this time, forget it, and leave it at home.  If you really think you're going to need it -- as a tool -- mention the knife to the border guard, and show it to him, and tell him you have it to use as a tool in case of emergency, and that you do not plan to use it as a weapon. Do not mention the words "Rule Number 9" or quote said rule, or else he'll observe his Rule Number 1: Do not let this jackass into your country, eh?)

And if you can speak French, don't try to impress the Customs officials with it. The locals might appreciate that you're trying to speak to them in their primary language, but they won't be especially impressed by any ability to speak it, and any such ability won't make it any easier for you to get through Customs.

When crossing back into the U.S., in addition to what you would have to declare on the way in (if you still have any of it), you would have to declare items you purchased and are carrying with you upon return, items you bought in duty-free shops or (if you flew) on the plane, and items you intend to sell or use in your business, including business merchandise that you took out of the United States on your trip. There are other things, but, since you're just going for baseball, they probably won't apply to you. Just in case, check the Canadian Customs website I linked to above.

After going through Customs, I-87 will become Autoroute 15, which will take you right into the Montreal area.  If you're going to a downtown hotel, take Exit 53 to Pont Champlain (the Champlain Bridge), which will take you to Autoroute 10, the Bonaventre Expressway, across the St. Lawrence River and right into downtown -- or, as they say, Centre-ville.  If you're going only for the game, and going directly to the stadium, do not take the exit for the Champlain Bridge, but keep going, which will have you on Autoroute 20, and take Exit 8 for Pont Jacques-Cartier, across the river to Avenue de Lorimier.  Turn right on Rue Sherbrooke, which will get you right to the stadium.

If you make 2 rest stops – I would recommend at or near Albany, and count Customs, where they will have a restroom and vending machines – and if you don’t do anything stupid at Customs, such as fail to produce your passport, or flash a weapon, or say you watch South Park (a show with a vendetta against Canada for some reason), or say anything unkind about the late Maurice "Rocket" Richard, the trip should take about 8 hours.

Though that could become 9, because Montreal traffic is pretty bad, though not as bad as Toronto, which is every bit as bad as traffic in New York, Boston and Washington. As Canada native (Regina, Saskatchewan) Leslie Nielsen would say, I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley: Toronto traffic is awful.

Once In the City.  Montreal is one of the oldest cities in North America, founded by France in 1642.  Seeing a big hill in the middle of the island will tell you where the name came from: "Mont Real," "Royal Mountain." In some instances, things in the city are spelled as "Mont Royal."

Since Canada is in the British Commonwealth, there are certain subtle differences.  Every measurement will be in the metric system.  Dates are written not as Month/Day/Year, as we do it, but as Day/Month/Year as in Britain and in Europe.  So the series begins for us on "April 9, 2004" but for them on "9 April 2004." Not on 4/9, but on 9/4.  They also follow British custom in writing time: A game starting at 7:05 PM would be listed as 1905.  (Those of you who have served in the military, you will recognize this as, in the words of M*A*S*H's Lt. Col. Henry Blake, "all that hundred-hours stuff.")

And every word we would end with -or, they will end wit -our; and some (but not all) words that we would end with -er, they end with -re, as in "Rogers Centre." Every measurement will be in the metric system: Temperatures will be in Celsius, not Fahrenheit; distances will be in "kilometres" (including speed limits), and gas prices will be per "litre," not per gallon.

When you arrive, I would recommend buying The Gazette and The Globe and Mail. The former newspaper is the city's predominant English-language paper, the latter is national, and both are liberal enough to suit my sensibilities (or, should I say, sensible enough to suit my liberalism). And The Gazette has a very good sports section, and should do a good job covering the Expos, although, being a hockey city in a hockey Province in a hockey country, you’ll see a lot of stuff about the Canadiens and nearby minor-league, collegiate and “junior” hockey teams no matter what time of year it is.

I would advise against buying French-language papers like La Presse, Le Journal de Montreal and Le Devoir -- The Press, The Journal, and The Duty -- unless you really know French cold.  Especially since Le Devoir is the paper of Quebec nationalism and even separatism.  If The Gazette and The Globe and Mail are too liberal for you, The National Post may be more to your liking.  Either the bus or the train terminal will have out-of-town papers, including The New York Times, and possibly also the Daily News or the Post.

Like New York, Montreal is a city of islands, with a a main island in the center -- except, unlike Manhattan, you can't cross a State Line (or, in this case, a Province Line) by going over a bridge or into a tunnel.  Like New York, Montreal is international and multiethnic: In spite of French being the largest ethnic group, there are significant Irish, Italian and Jewish communities, and, for linguistic reasons, a large and growing community of immigrants from France's former African colonies.

Montreal doesn't really have a centerpoint -- centrepoint? pointe du centre? To make matters even more confusing, while they have East and West (Est et Ouest) on street names, like Manhattan, the main island is not perfectly north-south.  Indeed, it's actually more than a 45-degree angle, so what's east is more north, and what's west is more south.  Boulevard St-Laurent, known as The Main in English and Le Main (pronounced "leh man" in French), is the official east-west divider, where the address numbers on each side start at 1, while the river is the starting point for north-south-running streets.

The further west you go in the city, the more likely you are to hear English; the further east, the more likely you will be to hear only French.  In fact, in Montreal's East End, you might see several buildings flying only the Provincial flag, the Fleurdelyse, the blue flag with the white cross and the white lilies in the cantons.  These people who fly only the Provincial flag, not the red-white-red tricolor with the red Maple Leaf in the center, are separatists, who consider Quebec a separate nation and want Anglophone Canada to "Let my people go." The separatist tide has faded since the nearly successful referendum of October 30, 1995, but there is still strong separatist sentiment in the East End, and this increases the closer you get to the Provincial capital, Quebec City.

Roger Doucet, an opera singer who sang the National Anthem at Expos and Canadiens games in the 1970s before his death from cancer in 1981, would acknowledge this divide: He would begin the anthem in French, and face the east side of of Parc Jarry, Stade Olympique or the Forum; then, in mid-song, turn and face the west side of the structure, and conclude in English.

Montreal has a subway, opened in 1966 and known as “Le Metro,” just like that of Paris.  But they don't use tokens or farecards.  They use actual tickets.  Very small tickets, an inch by an inch and a half.  The Societe de transport de Montreal charges $3.00 for 1 trip, $5.50 for 2, $24.50 for 10, $9.00 for a one-day card, $12.00 for an "Unlimited Week-end" running from 6 PM Friday to 5 AM Monday.  This makes it more expensive than the New York Subway, even with the exchange rate.  A ride to Trudeau International Airport is $9.00.  

(Update: I didn't look up the 2004 prices, and they now have a farecard, called an Opus Card.  I guess they got tired of complaints about those little tickets.)

Reading the Metro map shouldn't be too much trouble, even if you don't know French.  Getting to Stade Olympique, the Olympic Stadium, by public transportation is easy.  It's 5 miles east of downtown, and you take Line 1, the Green Line, or any train that transfers to Line 1, to Pie-IX station.  That's named after late 19th Century Pope Pius IX, and is pronounced "Pee-nuff." Don't laugh.

Because of Montreal's cold weather, Pie-IX station opens right into the stadium.  In other words, you can go from downtown to the stadium, see an Expos game, and get back downtown, without even seeing the stadium from the outside.  (This is actually unlikely, as the stadium can be seen from across the river, complete with the Olympic Tower standing over it, supporting the roof.)

If you are driving to the stadium, take Rue Sherbrooke to Pie-IX Boulevard.  The stadium will look much like a flying saucer, with the Tower standing over it.  The official address of the Olympic Stadium is 4141 Rue Pierre De Coubertin, named for the French Baron who restarted the Olympic Games in 1976.

Tickets.  Contrary to what you've been hearing, Montreal hasn't always been a bad baseball city.  In 1979, '80, '82 and '83, the Expos drew over 2 million fans to their home games.  In '83, they peaked at an average of 28,650.  Even as late as 1994, the Year of What Might Have Been, they were averaging 22,390.  But the disillusionment kicked in, and while they still averaged 18,489 in 1997, the all-but-lame-duck status of the franchise reduced them to 7,935 in 2001.  In 2003, even with the games played in San Juan, Puerto Rico, "home" attendance rose to only 12,662.

Therefore, with a baseball seating capacity of 43,739 (66,308 for football), you can pretty much get any seat you can afford.  Remember, these prices are in Canadian dollars.  VIP Boxes are $36, Box Seats $26, Terrace seating (upper deck) $16, and General Admission $8.

Going In. The stadium faces east, with the Tower hanging over center field, although you won't be able to see that from the inside.  Gates are along Avenue Pierre-de-Coubertin, at home plate at Avenue Letourneux, and in right field at Avenue Aird.

There are no statues, inside or outside the stadium, dedicated to Expos or Alouettes greats. But they do have  a statue outside, devoted to the most famous of the Montreal Royals' players, Jackie Robinson; and a plaque honoring him inside, inscribed in both English and French.

The field points north, although "east" as far as the city is concerned, but that doesn't make a difference, since you can't see outside the place anyway.  The "flying saucer" effect is retained on the inside, with a a convex shape, and about 20,000 seats in center field are cut off by a huge scoreboard.  The field is artificial and symmetrical: Outfield distances are 325 to the poles, 375 to the alleys and 404 to "centre." The seats add to the weirdness: They are hard plastic, and they have armrests only on the right side.  Willie Stargell of the Pittsburgh Pirates hit the Big O's longest home run, 535 feet, in 1978.

Food.  Montreal is a great food city, but there are two things of which you should beware.  One is Montreal-style hot dogs.  This is a problem since hot dogs are a staple of baseball games.  They call their hot dogs steamé, stimé or Steamie, and top them with mustard, chopped onion or sauerkraut.  Sounds like New York style, right? But they also put this weird relish on it, and that ruins it.  Do yourself a favor, and order your Steamie without relish.  (Incidentally, in spite of my suggestions of similarities between Montreal and New York, don't expect to see hot dog carts on the streets: The city banned street food carts in 1947.)


The other food you will want to avoid is poutine.  It's French fries topped with brown gravy.  Sounds great, right? Not so fast: They also top it with curd cheese.  As they would say in the city's Jewish neighborhood, "Feh!" Poutine, along with French fries (they call them patates frites, as they know that the item originated in Belgium, not France), is available at McDonald's, but stay away from it.  Trust me.

If you're a fan of the film Pulp Fiction, you should be aware that, regardless of what it's called in Paris, in Montreal, a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is called "un quarte de livre avec fromage." Literally, "a quarter of a pound with cheese."

Neverthless, the Olympic Stadium has standard baseball food, and although none of it is great, most of it upsets Canadian stomachs far less than do the Expos’ relief pitchers.  One staple of Montreal food that is definitely worth it is viande fumée -- smoked meat sandwiches.  Think New York's Carnegie Deli, only cheaper and better.  Yum, yum.


Team History Displays. The Expos have 25 years of history, but those years haven't been very successful.  They've only finished 1st twice, and both finishes are asterisk-worthy, as they came in the strike-shortened seasons of 1981 and 1994.

They beat the Philadelphia Phillies in a strike-forced Division Series in '81, and in the National League Championship Series they took the Los Angeles Dodgers to the 9th inning of a deciding Game 5.  But in the top of the 9th, Rick Monday homered to center field to give the Dodgers the Pennant.  Because of his name, the actual day of the week, and the color of the Dodgers' uniforms, the game, it became known as "Blue Monday." While the Expos do have a notation for the 1981 National League Eastern Division Title on the right field fence, there is no mention of the 1994 title, since, unlike that of '81, Major League Baseball does not officially recognized it.

(Update: As the Washington Nationals, they finally finished 1st in a full 162-game season in 2012.  They still haven't won a Pennant, though.  That October 11, 1981 win over the Phillies, with Steve Rogers -- not Captain America -- outpitching Steve Carlton remains the only postseason series the Expos/Nationals franchise has ever won.  Unfortunately for Rogers, despite holding the Dodgers to 1 run over the first 8 innings, he also gave up Monday's homer.)

The Expos have retired 4 numbers, for 5 people: 8, Gary Carter, catcher, 1974-84 with a brief return in 1992; 10, Rusty Staub, right field, 1969-71 with a brief return in 1979; 10 again, Andre Dawson, center field, 1977-86; 30, Tim Raines, left field, 1979-90 with a brief return in 2001 that also led to his son Tim Jr. playing for the Expos at that time; and 83, Charles Bronfman, founder-owner, 1969-91.  Bronfman used to wear a uniform with that number while attending spring training at West Palm Beach, Florida.  Robinson's universally-retired Number 42 is also on the right-field wall with the Expos' retired numbers, although he wore 20 with the Montreal Royals.  (Update: The film 42 shows him wearing 9 with the Royals, but there are surviving photographs showing him wearing 20 with them.  Maybe he wore both.)

Daniel Joseph Staub is a Cajun, which is a mongrelization of "Acadian": He, like many other natives of New Orleans and (like his contemporary, former Yankee pitcher Ron Guidry) elsewhere in Louisiana, is descended from eastern Canada, what had been known as "New France." He was nicknamed Rusty because of his red hair, and when he was taken in the 1969 expansion draft, the Quebecois people thoroughly embraced their long-lost countryman, calling him "Le Grand Orange." In spite of only playing 4 seasons there, he may still be the most popular player in Expo history.

Staub is not in the Hall of Fame.  The only former Expo in the Hall, and he just got in last year, is Carter.  Current manager Frank Robinson is in the Hall, although that was for his playing, mainly with the Cincinnati Reds and the Baltimore Orioles.  The Expos do not have a team Hall of Fame.

(Update: As of 2013, there are 5 figures associated with the Expos in the Baseball Hall of Fame: Carter, Dawson, Robinson, Tony Perez and Dick Williams.  Carter and Dawson are the only figures in the Hall with Expo caps on their plaques.  Perez played 1st base for the Expos from 1977 to '79, and Williams managed the Expos from 1977 to '81.  Ironically, they fired him in '81 in favor of team executive Jim Fanning -- with a name like that, you could certainly have thought he'd have been a good pitching coach -- and he managed them to the Division Title.  The '94 title was led by Felipe Alou, but he is not in the Hall, nor did the Expos retire his Number 18.  A banner showing the Expos' retired numbers 8, 10, 10 and 30 now hangs from the rafters of the Bell Centre, home of the Canadiens.)

There is no mention at the Olympic Stadium of the 7 International League Pennants won by the Expos’ minor-league predecessor, the Montreal Royals, a farm team of the Brooklyn Dodgers: 1941, 1946, 1948, 1949, 1951, 1953 and 1958.  Nor is there any mention of Royals' greats, including future Hall-of-Famers Robinson, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider (who later broadcast for the Expos), Don Drysdale (who also broadcast for the Expos), Tommy Lasorda (who was a very good pitcher in Triple-A but not major league quality until he became a manager), Walter Alston (managed the Royals), Sparky Anderson (not much of a player), and Roberto Clemente, whom the Dodgers let get away to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  (Lasorda, Alston and Anderson are all in the Hall for what they did as managers.)

Ross Grimsley Sr. pitched for the Royals' '51 Pennant winners, and Ross Grimsley Jr. pitched for the Expos' '81 Division winners.  Walter O'Malley ended the Dodgers' affiliation with the Royals in 1960, and then the Minnesota Twins bought them and moved them to Central New York State, where they have played as the Syracuse Chiefs ever since -- ironically, as a Toronto Blue Jays farm club since 1978.

Stuff. The usual memorabilia is sold, including jerseys with the names of current Expos players on them. For those of former Expos stars, sorry, but you’ll have to go to Mitchell & Ness in Philadelphia (or their website) to get them.

There aren't many good books about the team.  Alan Usereau wrote The Expos in Their Prime: The Short-Lived Glory of Montreal's Team, 1977-1984.  Jeff Stuart wrote Blue Mondays: The Long Goodbye of the Montreal Expos.  And Claude Brochu, the owner whom many locals blame for the decline of the team, decided not to let them have the last word, and wrote his own version of history: My Turn At Bat: The Sad Saga of the Expos.  I doubt that Jeffrey Loria, who (along with Commissioner Bud Selig) has really been killing the team, will write an apologia.

The Expos are also weak on video, but that's to be expected, since they haven't reached a World Series, and there are no official World Series highlight films for them.  Since the team's 25th Anniversary is likely to be its last major one -- the idea of the Expos making it to a 30th Anniversary in 2009 is getting more and more ridiculous -- there's no Silver Anniversary video.

During the Game. You do not need to fear wearing your Met gear to the Olympic Stadium.  You wouldn't even need to fear wearing Ranger, Islander or Devil gear to the Bell Centre.  But at the Big O, they'll just be glad you showed up.

Since you’re in Canada, there will be two National Anthems sung. “The Star-Spangled Banner” will probably be sung by about half of the few thousand Met fans who show up, but “O Canada” will be sung by the home fans with considerable gusto. When I’m at a sporting event where the opposing team is Canadian, I like to sing “O Canada” in French. Montreal Canadiens fans like this when I do it at the Meadowlands. Fans of the other Canadian NHL teams just think it’s weird. But then, they root for the Blue Jays, and I root for the Yankees, so I’d rather have their opinion of me than my opinion of them.

The Expos’ mascot is a big furry orange thing named "Youppi!" Apparently, that's French-accented Canadian English for "Yippie!" And his uniform number is an exclamation point! He, more than Rusty Staub or Andre Dawson ever was, is the face of the franchise.  The ball carries well indoors, better than it did in the years before the roof was finished (1977-91). 

(Update: After the Expos left, Youppi! was adopted by the Expos, and remains beloved in Montreal.)

Announcements are made in English and French.  "Play ball!" becomes "Au jeu!" (Game on! -- which is what they usually say for hockey in Canada.) "Let's go, Expos!" becomes "Allons-yi, Expos!" The team's nickname is Nos Amours -- Our Loved Ones.  During the 7th inning stretch, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is sung in English and French.

After the Game. Expo fans will not rub it in on those occasions when they win.  Montreal is an international city, every bit as much as New York is, and some of these people may have cut their teeth as sports fans in European soccer. But we’re not talking about hooligans here.  Maybe if you were coming out of a hotly-contested hockey game against the Maple Leafs, but not once between "Original Six" rivals the Rangers, and not a baseball game.

If you want to go out for a postgame meal, or even just a pint, your best bet is to get back on the Metro, and head downtown.  The Rue Crescent neighborhood, centered around that west-of-downtown street and roughly bordered by Rue Sherbrooke, Rue Peel, Boulevard Rene-Levesque and Rue Guy (that's "gee" with a hard G, not "guy"), is, more or less, Montreal's "Greenwich Village." You should be able to find a place that will serve you even if you order in English.  Be advised, though, that you must remove your hat when you walk into a Montreal pub.  They insist.

If all you need is a snack and coffee, your best bet may be Tim Hortons. (Note that there is no apostrophe: It’s “Hortons,” not “Horton’s,” because Bill 101, Quebec's ridiculous protect-the-French-language law, prohibits apostrophes and the company wanted to keep the same national identity.) They have a 62 percent share of the Canadian coffee market (Starbucks has just 7 percent) and 76 percent of the Canadian baked goods market. They also sell sandwiches, soup, chili, and even (some of you will perk up faster than if you’d drunk their coffee) New York-style cheesecake. It’s fast food, but good food. I rate them behind Dunkin Donuts, but ahead of Starbucks.

"Timmy's" (in the diminutive, people do use the apostrophe) has Montreal outlets even though namesake Tim Horton, a hockey defenceman (that’s how they spell it up there), played most of his career for the hated Maple Leafs.  He and businessman Ron Joyce started the doughnut/coffee shop chain in 1964, while in the middle of the Maple Leafs’ 1960s dynasty. He played a couple of years for the Rangers, then went to the Buffalo Sabres and opened a few outlets in the Buffalo area. He was still playing at age 44, and the only thing that stopped him was death. Specifically, a 100-MPH, not-wearing-a-seat-belt crash on the Queen Elizabeth Way over Twelve Mile Creek in St. Catharines, Ontario.

Sidelights. Montreal is much cleaner than most American cities, mainly because Canada believes in using government for, you know, essential services, including proper sanitation, rather than in giving kickbacks to corporations that claim to create jobs but don't.  But the city does have some bad neighborhoods.  Still, you should be okay if you stay out of the East End -- or, if you really must go, are willing to speak French there and give lip service to the separatist cause.  In the meantime, check out these locations:

* Parc Olympique.  The legacy of the 1976 Olympics was one of debt -- still not paid off.  This got "The Big O" the additional nickname "The Big Owe." But much of it is still open.  It includes an arena named for Canadiens great Maurice Richard, with a statue of him outside; the Velodrome cycling center, now a nature museum called the Biodome; the Montreal Botanical Garden and the Montreal Insectarium.  But you don't want to see a museum devoted to bugs.

(Update: The Olympic Park debt was finally paid off in 2008.  The park now includes Saputo Stadium, the 20,000-seat home of Major League Soccer's Montreal Impact, although L'Impact -- nicknamed Limp Act by their rivals in Toronto and Vancouver -- use the Olympic Stadium for their bigger matches.  And you still don't want to see a museum devoted to bugs.  Unless you're my niece Ashley.  She likes bugs.)

* Parc Jarry.  Jarry Park Stadium was the original home of the Expos, from April 14, 1969 to September 26, 1976.  It was meant as a temporary facility, seated only 28,456, and had a pool beyond right field that was the resting place for a few home runs.  Expos pitcher Bill Stoneman pitched the 2nd of his no-hitters there, and in the park's last MLB game, the Phillies clinched their first 1st-place finish in 26 years.  Now known as Stade Uniprix, in 1995 it was converted into a tennis stadium, with one end still recognizable as the home-plate seating area from Jarry Park.  285 Rue Faillon Ouest at Rue Gary-Carter.  Parc Metro.

* Site of Delorimier Stadium.  Home of the Royals from 1928 to 1960, and the CFL's Alouettes from 1946 to 1953, this 20,000-seat stadium was one of the best facilities in the minor leagues, and was Jackie Robinson's first home field in "organized ball." It was demolished in 1971 and replaced by a school, with a plaque honoring Robinson and the Royals.  2101 Rue Ontario Est & Avenue de Lorimier.  Bus 125.

* Victoria Rink.  Opened on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1862, and named for Queen Victoria, it was described at the down of the 20th Century as "one of the finest covered rinks in the world." On March 3, 1875, it hosted what is believed to be the very first indoor hockey game, anywhere in the world, complete with 9 men on a side, goaltenders (not a first but still unusual at that point), a referee, a puck rather than any kind of stone (as could be found in curling, then as now a popular sport in Canada), and both rules and time predetermined -- 60 minutes, as with today's hockey, although no separation into periods.  The Victoria Skating Club played a team made up of students of nearby McGill University -- often considered Canada's answer to Harvard, and the year before it had played Harvard in a game that was vital to the development of football in North America -- and the Victorias won, 2-1.

The Montreal Hockey Club -- often listed as "Montreal Amateur Athletic Association" or "Montreal AAA" -- which was awarded the first Stanley Cup in 1893, and it hosted the first Cup playoff games in 1894.  The Victoria Hockey Club won the Cup while playing there in 1895, 1897, 1898 and 1899.  The Montreal Shamrocks defeated them for the Cup in 1899 (more than one "challenge series" could be held per year in those days), and won it again in 1900.  The rink also hosted some of North America's first figure skating competitions.

It was torn down in 1925, and a parking garage was built on the site.  Rue Drummond & Blvd. Rene-Levesque Ouest, adjacent to a Sheraton hotel.  Metro Lucien-L'Allier.

* Jubilee Arena.  This building didn't last too long, built in 1909 and burning down in 1919, a year after the fire that destroyed Westmount Arena, forcing the Canadiens, who started here, move to Mount Royal Arena.  This arena's construction led to the founding of both the Canadiens and the National Hockey Association, the precursor to the National Hockey League.  3100 Rue St-Catherine Est at Rue Moreau.  Bus 34.

* Mount Royal Arena.  Home to the Canadiens from 1920 to 1926, the Habs won the 1924 Stanley Cup while playing there.  It only seated 6,000, so when they were offered the chance to move into the larger Forum, they jumped at it.  Mount Royal Arena was converted into a concert hall and then a commercial building, before burning down in 2000.  A supermarket is now on the site.  50 Avenue du Mont-Royal Ouest & Rue Saint-Urbain.  Bus 55.

* Montreal Forum and Westmount Arena.  The Yankee Stadium of hockey, the Forum opened in 1924, and the Canadiens played there from 1926 until 1996, winning 22 of their 24 Stanley Cups in that span.  (They won 2 before moving in, in 1916 and 1924.) The Montreal Maroons, who played from 1924 to 1938, also played there, winning the Stanley Cup in 1926 and 1935.  The Canadiens clinched on home ice in 1930, 1931, 1944, 1946, 1953, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1965, 1968, 1979 and 1993; and on the road in 1958, 1960, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1976, 1977, 1978 and 1986.  Famously, the Canadiens never had an opponent clinch the Cup on Forum ice until 1989, when the Calgary Flames did it, the reverse of 1986 when the Habs clinched in Calgary.  The Rangers clinched the 1928 Cup on Forum ice against the Maroons, who hung on through the Great Depression for as long as they could but finally went out of business.

In 1937, the Forum hosted the funeral of Howie Morenz. the Canadiens star known as "The Babe Ruth of Hockey," and later that year hosted the Howie Morenz Memorial Game as a benefit for his family, between a combined Canadiens-Maroons team and players from the other 6 teams then in the NHL, including New York's Rangers and Americans.

Elvis Presley never performed in Montreal -- or anywhere in Canada except shows in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver early in his career, in 1957 -- but The Beatles played at the Forum on September 8, 1964.  In 1976, it hosted the Olympic gymnastic events, and it was there that Nadia Comaneci performed the first perfect 10 routine in Olympic history, having already gotten the first perfect 10 anywhere earlier in the year at  "the new Madison Square Garden."

In 1972, the Forum hosted Game 1 of the "Summit Series" between Canada and the Soviet Union, and the Soviets' shocking 7-3 win turned the hockey world upside-down before Canada won Games 6, 7 and 8 in Moscow to take the series. On New Year's Eve, December 31, 1975, CSKA Moscow, a.k.a. the Central Red Army team, with many of the players from the Summit Series, began a North American tour at the Forum, and what were then the 2 best club hockey teams on the planet played to a stirring 3-3 tie that effectively launched the Habs on a streak of 4 straight Cups, 1976-79, which stand alongside their 5 straight of 1956-60 -- not as many consecutive Cups, but 16 consecutive series won as opposed to 10.

The original seating capacity was 9,300 -- which was considered huge for an indoor stadium in the 1920s, before the building boom that the Forum helped start, leading to that era's incarnations of Madison Square Garden and the Boston Garden, Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, Chicago Stadium and the Olympia in Detroit.  Capacity became 13,551 in 1949, and a 1968 renovation expanded it to a capacity of 16,259, pushed to 17,959 with 1,700 standees, with the tradition of the standees being let in first and rushing for position.

After an emotional closing ceremony on March 11, 1996, the Forum was converted into a mall, complete with restaurants, a bowling alley and a movie theater.  Roughly where the rink was, hockey markings have been painted onto the floor of the main walkway, and there's a small bleacher with sculptures of fans and a bench with a statue of Maurice Richard, waiting to take the ice one more time.  2313 Rue St-Catherine Ouest, at Avenue Atwater.

Atwater used to be the city line between Montreal and Westmount, before mostly-Anglophone Westmount was incorporated into the "megacity" of Montreal in 2002.  The Westmount Arena, right across from the Forum but in a separate city, was sometimes known as the Montreal Arena for prestige purposes, and was designed specifically for hockey, a rarity at the time, and was perhaps the first ice rink in the world to have the rounded corners we have come to expect from hockey.  It opened on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1898, and was the home of several teams.

The Montreal AAA team won the Stanley Cup there in 1902 and 1903, making it 4 Cups, and by 1906 it was an amateur team that lasted until 1961.  The Montreal Wanderers played there, winning the Stanley Cup in 1906, 1907, 1908 and 1910.  The Canadiens started playing there in 1911, and won the Cup there in 1916.

On January 2, 1918, 19 years to the week after it opened, a fire started in, ironically, the arena's ice-making plant, and burned it to the ground.  No one died, but the Canadiens had to move back to Jubilee Arena, and the Wanderers went out of business.  A shopping center, Place Alexis-Nihon, is now on the site.  Both that shopping center and the Forum can be accessed by Atwater Metro.

* Centre Bell.  The new home of the Canadiens, originally Centre Molson, is adjacent to downtown Windsor Station, which is now a commuter line only (VIA Rail Canada, the country's version of Amtrak, operates out of Gare Centrale, 2 blocks away), on Rue de la Gauchtiere, although the address has been officially changed to 1909 Avenue des Canadiens-de-Montreal, to match the team and the year of its founding.

The Habs haven't done too well since moving in, not even making the Conference Finals.  But the sight of those 24 Stanley Cup banners, all those retired number banners, and the noise and passion generated by Montrealers watching their game is still enough to intimidate opposing players and fans.  Metro to either Lucien-L'Allier or Bonaventure.

(Update: The Yankees have now won a World Series at the new Yankee Stadium.  The Boston Celtics have now won an NBA Championship at the TD Garden.  And while Lambeau Field wasn't torn down and replaced with a new stadium, and wouldn't host a Super Bowl anyway, it has been significantly renovated, and the Packers have since had a Super Bowl-winning season.  Canadiens, you still have only won 1 postseason series since moving into the Bell Centre.  You're on the clock!)

* Percival Molson Memorial Stadium.  Built in 1919, this stadium has been the home field for McGill University athletic teams, and was used by the CFL's Montreal Alouettes from 1947 to 1967, and again since 1998, although with only 25,012 seats, they still need to move into the Olympic Stadium for their Playoff games.  It was named for Captain Percival Molson, a former McGill sports star and member of the Molson brewing family (which, for a time, owned the Canadiens), who was killed in action in World War I.  Avenue des Pins at Rue University.  Metro McGill.

* Windsor Hotel.  Often called Canada's first grand hotel and billing itself as "the best in all the Dominion," it stood from 1875 to 1981.  The National Hockey League was founded here on November 26, 1917, with 5 teams: The Montreal Canadiens and Wanderers, the Toronto Arenas (forerunners of the Maple Leafs), the Ottawa Senators (not the team that uses the name today), and the Quebec Bulldogs.  By 1934, all but the Habs and the Leafs would be out of business.  Following a fire in 1957, the hotel went into decline, and the North Annex is all that remains, now an office building and banquet complex called Le Windsor.  1170 Rue Peel at Rue Cypress.  Metro Peel or Bonaventure.

* Queen Elizabeth Hotel.  Opened in 1958, its namesake -- and her namesake, the widow of King George VI that our generation knew as the Queen Mother -- stayed here, as have other monarchs, presidents, prime ministers and legendary entertainers.  From May 26 to June 2, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono staged their "Bed-In For Peace" at Room 1742, and recorded "Give Peace a Chance" there.  900 Blvd. Rene-Levesque Ouest at Rue University.  Metro Bonaventure.

* Historic sites.  Being outside the U.S., there are no Presidential Libraries in Canada.  The nation's Prime Ministers usually don't have that kind of equivalent building.  Of Canada's 15 deceased Prime Ministers, 2 are buried in or near Montreal.  John Abbott was PM for only a year and a half in 1891 and 1892, and is buried at Mount Royal Cemetery.  In contrast, Pierre Trudeau was PM for all but 9 months between April 1968 and June 1984, and is, depending on your stance on the role of government and the status of Quebec, either the most-loved or the most-hated head of government in Canada's history.  He is buried at Saint-Remi Cemetery, about 20 miles southwest of the city in Saint-Remi.


George-Etienne Cartier was Premier of "Canada East" prior to Confederation (their first step toward independence) in 1867, and along with the Anglophone Sir John A. Macdonald of "Canada West" was essentially the Francophone "Founding Father" of Canada.  (They call their Founding Fathers "the Fathers of Confederation.") Essentially, the Fathers were afraid that, with America's Civil War over, their country would be next -- an understandable belief, since attempts to take Canada from Britain by force had been made during the American Revolution and the War of 1812, and had also been threatened in the 1840s.  Cartier's home is a National Historic Site, at 458 Rue Notre-Dame Est at Rue Berri.  Metro Champ-de-Mars.

Also accessible by Champ-de-Mars station is Place Jacques-Cartier, where the French explorer of that name -- no relation to George-Etienne -- discovered the islands that became the city.  It is the gateway to Old Montreal (Vieux-Montreal), and unlike New York, which is actually older (founded 1624 as opposed to 1642), a lot of 17th and 18th Century Montreal buildings remain.

* Museums.  The city's version of the Museum of Natural History, Pointe-a-Calliere, is at 350 Place Royale at Rue de la Commune Ouest.  Metro Place-d'Armes.  Their equivalent to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, is at 1380 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest at Rue Crescent, just off the Concordia University campus.  Metro Peel or Guy-Concordia.  The McCord Museum of Canadian History is at 690 Rue Sherbrooke Ouest at Rue University.  Metro McGill, although its relative proximity to the Museum of Fine Arts allows you to do one right after the other.

* Delis.  That wonderful smoked meat, Montreal's take on the classic bagel, and other delicatessen delicacies, can be picked up in lots of places, but 3 stand out: Bens De Luxe, with its Art Deco entrance at 990 Blvd. de Maisonneuve Ouest at Rue Metcalfe, Metro McGill or Peel; Schwartz'a, 3895 Blvd. Saint-Laurent at Rue Milton, Metro Sherbrooke; and Wilensky's Light Lunch, immortalized in Mordecai Richler's novel The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, and with scenes from the Alan Arkin movie based on it filmed there, 34 Avenue Fairmount Ouest at Rue Clark, Rue Metro.  I've been to all 3 and recommend them all highly.

(Update: Sadly, the legendary Bens, the oldest deli in the city, closed in 2006 and was demolished in 2008.  Some of its memorabilia is now at the McCord Museum.  An effort was made to preserve it as a historic site, but it failed.)

*

The Expos are now gone.  But Montreal is still a great North American and world city.  So if you feel like taking in Playoff hockey at its most passionate, make sure your passport is in order, see if you can scrounge up a ticket, and head on up.