A Montreal Expos All-Star Memory

joel kirsteinCorrespondent IJuly 14, 2009

July 13, 1982 seems like eons ago when The Montreal Expos hosted the first Major League Baseball All-Star Game outside of the United States. I feel fortunate to have been able to attend the game and see history made that night. 27 years later, the event seems even poignant now that the Expos are no longer in Montreal.

This was a time when the Montreal Expos were at the forefront of baseball—just nine months after they came within a pitch of advancing to the World Series. The Expos were producing a bumper crop of young talent that made it's way into the starting lineup for the past five years. The Expos had accumulated one the best records in baseball from 1979 to 1981.

The 1982 All-Star Game was The Expos' moment in the spotlight and chance to shine it on baseball in Montreal. Attendance for Expos' games was amongst the best in the game. There were five Expos named to the National League All-Star team: pitcher Steve Rogers, outfielders Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, and catcher Gary Carter were all named as starters. Al Oliver rounded out the fifth selection as a reserve first basemen.

Manager Jim Fanning was chosen as a coach for the National League team as well. Former Brooklyn Dodger and then-Expos' color commentator Duke Snyder was the honorary captain of the National League team.

Hard as it seems to believe today, but the Expos were the gold standard in baseball. It was a different time and Expos fans everywhere felt like we were on top of the world. Contraction, franchise relocation, ownership instability, and small market woes seemed totally inconceivable back then. That night all the baseball stars aligned to celebrate the game in Montreal.

I was 21-years old that summer, a student attending the Art Institute of Pittsburgh finishing up my first year that summer, and I was not going to miss the chance to attend the All-Star Game in Montreal, on my team's home turf, flush with four starting players and a chance to see my Expos shine on the global baseball stage. I had bought tickets the moment they went on sale after the 1981 season.

Nothing was going to stop me on my quest to see the midseason classic in person. Not the worst stadium in baseball falling down (see 1991 Olympic Stadium mishap). Not the inconvenience of pursuing my education to become a graphic designer or missing the first week of school of my summer semester and falling behind in my workload. I also pushed the boundaries of my two part-time jobs just to see history in the making.

When I told my teachers at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh what my priorities were that summer, the reactions and responses were less than favorable. Before I headed off on my extended summer break, the dean of my program major asked me to stop by for a chat. He was a really nice guy and the "chat" began with "I'm not you father, but..."

He reminded me that I had a really great first three semesters up until that point and he would hate to see me suffer from a drop off like a lot of students when it comes to attending summer classes, combined with two part-time jobs and a surreal amount of homework. Did I mention that he was a Pirates' fan?

He'd seen the Bucs host All-Star Games and win three World Series Championships in 1960, 1971 and 1979. Expos fans like me were still in our eating-our-hearts-out, always-the-bridesmaids-stage. As history proved, it only got worse! The dean was unsuccessful in his attempt to change my mind. I appreciated his insight and concern to show me how important it was not to set myself up to fail.

The last thing he said to me was, "I hope that you won't be disappointed." I assured him I wouldn't let him or myself down. As opposed to the Expos, I came to realize that I had no problem finishing strong and meeting expectations.

The All-Star Game in Montreal was a surreal experience for me. Since 1967, I had watched every All-Star Game on t.v. and it captured my imagination in a way that very few other things had. Now as a 25-year advertising vet who has had a successful career leveraging my warped imagination, it still eludes me to accurate imagine what it would be like to stand amongst your peers, the best baseball has to offer, step forward when the PA announcer calls your name, and tip your cap to the crowd.

To have that experience in front of your hometown fans was unimaginable. As the only pro sports gathering of its' best that offers a real competitive effort and something that impacts the regular season that ups the ante, it is the only All-Star game I watch or even bother to pay attention to. Add in a healthy dose of history, a pantheon of the game's greats and some stellar performances.

Former Canadian Prime Minister, the late Pierre Elliot Trudeau gave a taped message that was broadcast on NBC and at the Big O extolling the success of baseball in Montreal and Canada's contribution to the game of baseball. Trudeau's father was the owner of the minor league Montreal Royals, the legendary farm team of the old Brooklyn Dodgers.

After all the pregame ceremonies, I took my seat with the other 59,057 fans in attendance that night. Local legend has the crowd at over 60,000, the biggest crowd ever to attend a baseball game in Montreal. Though the game itself was not to be remembered because of any real exceptional or historic performances, my Expos figured very prominently in the outcome.

Expos pitcher Steve Rogers got the nod from Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda to start the game for the National League squad, backed up by a record four Expo starters, including battery mate Gary Carter and outfielders Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. Expos' first baseman Al Oliver would come off the bench later in the game.

Starting pitcher Steve Rogers pitched the first three innings and got the win giving up only one run on four hits, while striking out two. Tim Raines did what he did best, by electrifying the crowd and stealing a base. Gary Carter, MVP of the 1981 All-Star Game, went 1-3 with an RBI. Andre Dawson went 1-4. Al Oliver, the eventual 1982 National League batting champion, came into the game and went 2-2, scoring a run in the sixth inning off the bat of teammate Gary Carter.

The game showcased a plethora of future American League Hall of Famers such as Reggie Jackson, George Brett, Rod Carew, Dennis Eckersley, Rollie Fingers, Carlton, Fisk, Rich Gossage, Eddie Murray, Carl Yastrzemski, Dave Winfield, and Robin Yount. A little-known outfielder from the Oakland A's went 3-4, stole a base, and scored the lone American league run, en route to a date in Cooperstown this summer. Rickey Henderson's performance that night is what he excelled at over a four decade career.

The National League squad had their share of future Hall of Famers in Expo Gary Carter, Steve Carlton, Phil Niekro, Mike Schmidt, Ozzie Smith, and manager Tommy Lasorda. I believe that two more Expos, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, will eventually have their day for enshrinement at Cooperstown. Even Pete Rose will eventually get the call.

Within 24 hours of attending the 53rd MLB All-Star game in Montreal, I was back in a hot, sweaty classroom at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh making up for lost time. For me, going to the game was a near-religious experience. I had that look on my face that Moses had after seeing the burning bush. That definitely gave me a bounce in my step and then some that summer. I finished that summer semester with the best GPA I had up to that point.

In retrospect the only disappointment in attending that game was the fact it would come to be the only All-Star Game in Montreal and one of the few shining moments in Montreal Expos history. Despite that, it was worth the effort and the memories will resonate with me for the rest of my life. Former classmates still can't believe I did that.

But that's what a die hard Montreal Expos fan is made of!