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A vendor walks in the crowd during Toronto Blue Jay's preseason baseball game against the New York Mets at Olympic Stadium in Montreal (Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail)
A vendor walks in the crowd during Toronto Blue Jay's preseason baseball game against the New York Mets at Olympic Stadium in Montreal (Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail)

JOHN ALLEMANG

A new season dawns, spring hopes eternal Add to ...

This isn’t the year, yet again, that Montreal Expos great Tim Raines will be admitted to the Hall of Fame, but it’s the best year for the momentum to build for his forthcoming election – even if Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and John Smoltz will join a ballot already featuring Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell (not to forget Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds). Raines is one of those old-time players who looks better as we come to appreciate his sublime skill at getting on base and moving around the diamond – which, as the sport’s statistical modernists say with their ancient wisdom, is the point.

But Raines was also an Expo in his prime, for better and for worse. For worse because, much like the franchise whose unmatchable logo he wore, he was overlooked and underrated. For better because 2014 is the year when the anniversaries of the team’s landmark seasons (the great if unfulfilled 1994, the miserable 2004) will be commemorated by influential Raines-boosters such as Jonah Keri, the Expos-chronicling author of Up, Up & Away. A world that understands the achievements of Tim Raines is a world that gets baseball, and it would be nice to think there is a place in the upgraded 2014 version of the game for recognizing exceptional talent – if only belatedly.

In a culture of distraction, most of it self-imposed, we struggle to see what’s right in front of us. Sport has the power to catch – and hold – our attention. It’s one of the last places where real drama unfolds moment-to-moment in our over-formatted entertainment zone, and the ninth inning always holds the potential pleasure of the unexpected.

Yes, the unexpected includes sad surprises like the Jays’ 2013 season, which good baseball stoics can accept as part of the game’s master plan. But now it’s time to be rational as well as hopeful, to see 2014 as a new beginning and not the culmination of a past we’re trying to forget. The Jays have a chance, once you get past their shaky rotation. Logically speaking, they’re not so different from the team we (and everyone else) predicted would go all the way last season, and our lowered expectations mean that we’ll be easy to satisfy if they can just keep in touch with the wild-card race. On the one hand, Reyes’s dodgy hamstring is acting up again, but on the other, Bautista had a monster spring.

Stop me now. It’s blank-slate time, and most of the preseason noise doesn’t matter any more. You might as well lose sleep at night wondering how Adam Lind’s extended goatee will compromise his rediscovered batting eye. Every team has issues, or will have – would you really want to have Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder under long-term contracts?

Yet someone thought those deals were the benchmark of success in the not-so-distant past. Dustin McGowan probably won’t be a surprise Cy Young contender but someone will be – and who was Chris Davis a year ago, or Jose Bautista a few years before that?

It isn’t scripted, and that’s why we keep coming back.

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