Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Farewell to the Boys of Summer

Music has an incredible ability to define a particular point in time for most of us. Often, merely hearing an old song takes us right back to the time when we first heard it, and releases a flood of memories in the process.

Don Henley’s The Boys of Summer is just such a song for me. Released in 1984, it was the song of my first summer as a lifeguard at the local pool. It was playing in my head when I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. To me, the tune will always signify new beginnings, and bright sunshine reflecting brilliantly off of a perfectly clear swimming pool filled with folks soaking up another lovely summer's day.

For anyone not lucky enough to have been in my pool when I first started working there, the song became an anthem of the season that year. It also became an informal nickname for the Montreal Expos. The city’s major league baseball team was still big news back then. Three years after their heartbreaking loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NL championship series – forever known as Blue Monday because it was Rick Monday whose home run ended the game, the series, and the Expos’ dreams – the team was still drawing respectable crowds to the gigantic toilet bowl known as the Olympic Stadium.

Now, after years of uncertainty, backroom backstabbing, annual talent fire sales, and a league administration whose main focus seems to have been aimed at killing the Expos’ chances of survival, the team is once again on its last legs. Now more than ever, it looks like major league baseball will soon make its final exit from the city where I dropped my first fly ball. It’s where I also dropped my last fly ball. And virtually every one in between.

You see, I wasn’t the world’s best baseball player. I spent most of my time sitting out in left field, picking buttercups and watching the contrails of aircraft overhead. Every once in a while, I’d hear some screaming from really far away. If I was lucky, I’d see a ball roll by. I’d chase it down, throw it back into the infield, then get back to my daydreaming.

Things weren’t much better at the plate. I was morbidly afraid of getting smacked in the face by a ball. So I did my best to stay away from the plate. This is, apparently, a Bad Thing insofar as hitting style is concerned. So I didn’t hit much. The occasional single, sure. Lots of walks. And once I made it to third base, but I think it’s because my spiritual twin was hanging out in left field that day.

Despite my lack of statistical success, I rather enjoyed the experience. I ended up with a rich set of memories that have stuck with me to this day. I remember the gravel-strewn, barely-playable field known as Churchill Park that was eventually turned into a strip mall. I remember the team whose coach made his son the pitcher because, well, he was his son. No one had to teach me the definition of nepotism after that summer. I remember the colors of the shirts we used to get every year – no full-blown uniforms…just shirts, which was fine by me.

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve wisely chosen to stay away from team sports. Individual pursuits where speed and stamina determine your ultimate success are much more my cup of tea. Based on this, you’d think I wouldn’t care about team sports. But I do. Yes, they can be trivial. Yes, we tend to blow their importance way the heck out of proportion, pretending to live and die by the exploits of our hometown heroes. But somehow, they persist despite the continued ridiculousness of massive salaries, arbitration, lockouts and strikes. Somehow, deep inside, we identify with our professional sports teams. They’re the signatures on the places we live, and we feel somewhat compromised if our city doesn’t have them.

Montreal is about to find out what that’s like. The team that fans forgot is now playing its final homestand in front of virtually empty seats – barely 4,000 showed up at last night’s game, for example. I sort of expected more folks to show up for nostalgic reasons – indeed, I would have popped down for a game if I still lived there – but I kind of understand why that doesn’t seem to be happening. People are tired. They want to move on. They’ve long ago accepted that Montreal isn’t a major league sports city. They’re OK with the fact that whoever plays on the God-awful artificial surface doesn’t have much impact on their day-to-day lives. Professional sport doesn’t loom large over the psyche of a city the way it once did.

The Boys of Summer are making their exit along with the season for which they were named. Like the windswept beach after Labor Day, there are few people left to notice. Maybe that’s the way it’s meant to be.

Adieu, Nos Amours. It’s been a good ride.

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For some additional reading on the team’s swan song, check out the following links:

6 comments:

Trillian said...

Carmi- thanks for this post - it's beautifully written and I can relate to your childhood baseball experiences. I, too, was a left field butter-cup picker!

Tara said...

Well-written and highly enjoyable. Thanks. :)

Eric said...

Quite a read, thanks for your insight.

Wheelson said...

Wow...you've pretty much summed up my experience playing baseball as a kid and my approach to sports as an adult. Well, I have started up soccer but as expected it's more an exercise in humiliation than anything else.

I can't imagine only 4000 at a Major League game. I feel lucky that through all the ups and downs teams here have been through, Seattle has been blessed with some interesting teams and some world class sports fans.

Diva said...

What a wonderful memory, Carmi, and an especially fond recollection around such a bittersweet song.

Carmi said...

Thanks to you all. I don't really know where this sentiment came from. But as I watched the coverage of the last days of the franchise's existence in Montreal, something welled up from deep inside. Coverage of professional sports often lacks perspective. And although I'm not a sports writer, I seem to nibble at the edges of the community fairly often. What really matters - more than the box score or the cheesy roundup at 11:30 p.n. - is how it relates to our everyday lives. I'll do my best to capture similar sentiments in future. Your thoughts have very much helped in this regard, and I appreciate them very much.