I grew up a Montreal Expos fan. It was a completely different experience following a team from a city outside of your own at that point. No MLB.tv. No MLB Extra Innings or MLB Network. Just newspaper reports the next day, box scores and a few games a year when they played in or against New York.
Living in New Jersey, surrounded by Phillies fans on one side and Yankees and Mets fans on the other, with no team to call our own, there was no way I was cheering for any teams from Philadelphia or New York.
Up in Montreal, however, there was a team with tri-colored caps, powder blue uniforms when they played the local teams, sharp white ones at home and stars like Tim Raines, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson.
Years later, somehow, I ended up talking to two of the three players I grew up following and idolizing.
The Montreal Expos became the Washington Nationals. I started writing about the relocated franchise in 2005-2006, first as a way to get myself to sit down and write every day and later more obsessively when a daily hobby turned into a sort-of profession.
By the time the Nats decided to recognize the history of the franchise by adding Carter and Dawson's names to the so-called "Ring of Honor" in Nationals Park, placing their names and the Expos' logo alongside the great names from D.C.'s baseball history, I'd somehow ended up with media credentials, so I was on the field before the pregame ceremony in which their names were revealed.
In the Nationals' dugout, I found myself standing, iPhone in hand, as part of a media scrum that was interviewing both Carter and Dawson.
(Photo © and courtesy I. Koski)
"I'm just overwhelmed," Carter said of the unexpected honor.
"To now be recognized with Andre Dawson and all the great Washington Senators' players, I'm speechless basically, and that's tough for me to do, you know."
"There will always be a remembrance here at Nationals Park, and I'm very honored and very proud."
It was clear that it meant something to Carter, who passed away two years later after a battle with brain cancer.
"I just don't have enough words to express my feelings," he said that night, "because I'm just overwhelmed. I really had no idea that this was transpiring. I thought they were just going to honor Andre and I was going to catch the first pitch, that's all I knew, so, now that the name will be up there on that ring it's something that I'm really proud of."
"The Kid" was touched by the Nationals' gesture, by their willingness to acknowledge that the franchise those like me grew up watching might be gone, but there was still a connection worth recognizing.
"For me," Dawson told reporters, "any time someone extends that effort and pays homage to my career, it's very gratifying...I never played here [in D.C.], but I understand the history and connection, and I'm most grateful."
(Photo © and courtesy I. Koski)
"I went in [the Hall of Fame] as an Expo...and I understand what tonight is about and just want to say that I'm very grateful."
Five years later, during the last homestand, the Nationals added another name with ties to the franchise's Montreal past to the Ring of Honor.
Frank Robinson, who had a more direct connection to Washington, having managed the Nationals in 2005-2006 after managing the Expos from 2002-2004, had his name placed on the facade below the second deck as well, a permanent reminder of his role in the Nats' history.
Robinson too was touched by the gesture, as he explained to reporters.
"It's important to me because it makes me feel ...wanted a little bit," Robinson said. "Appreciated."
"I'll always have a special place in my heart [for this team]," the Hall of Famer continued.
Robinson talked about the excitement of relocating with the franchise, leaving Montreal for Washington, D.C. and helping reintroduce the national pastime to fans in the nation's capital.
"I take a lot of pride in it," he said of team he led before and after the move. "The players were great...we were excited about it. It was a good situation for us coming away from Montreal although it was kind of bittersweet leaving those fans up there because those 5,000 die hard fans were great. But it was good to be coming to an exciting team and fans that were ready to support their team coming to this [city]."
Many of those 5,000 die hard fans still follow the franchise today. One of them was lucky enough to meet three of his Expos idols, just by sticking with the team and writing about his love of the game.
Photo © Tom Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports