The Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony began Saturday afternoon with the singing of both the Canadian and American national anthems.
Tim Raines proudly stood for both.
Born and raised in Sanford, Fla., Raines spent 13 years playing baseball for the Montreal Expos.
He arrived in Quebec at the tender age of 19 — a fresh-faced rookie in a country he knew very little about — and as he puts it, he never really left.
“My heart is there,” Raines said about Montreal, hours before being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame along with George Bell, Rob Ducey, Nat Bailey and Tom Cheek.
“I’m not really Canadian, but I feel like one.”
Though he may not be in the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., just yet — Raines has been on the ballot since 2008, falling short of the 75 per cent mark needed for induction each year so far — the seven-time all-star says that being placed in the Canadian hall is a great honour.
“It means a lot to be recognized by this country,” Raines said. “It means that all the hard work I put in over the years has paid off, but it isn’t something that I played for.
“It wasn’t my intention to play the game to be the best. It was my intention to play the game to do my best.”
And that he did.
Through 23 years with six different major-league teams, Raines hit .294 with a .385 on-base percentage. He has 2,605 career hits, including 430 doubles and 113 triples.
Known best for his speed, the 53-year-old Raines currently sits fifth on MLB’s all-time stolen base list with 808.
The Expos retired Raines’ No. 30 in June 2004. Three months later, they were playing their last game in Montreal.
Raines was at Olympic Stadium that September night when the Expos lost 9-1 to the Florida Marlins, hours after the league announced the impending move to Washington D.C. For the man who had begun his career in the Canadian city, it was an emotional experience.
“I knew there wouldn’t be a Montreal Expos anymore and that was disappointing,” said Raines. “That was the town that adopted me as a player. Those were the fans who cheered me day in and day out.
“They gave me the fuel to play the best that I could play. And to see that that was no longer going to be there, that was a very sad moment for me.”
Raines, who now works as a roving minor league instructor with the Toronto Blue Jays, says he has many fond memories of Montreal. But one specifically sticks out.
It was April 6, 2001 — the first game of the season at Olympic Stadium — and a 41-year-old Raines was back with the Expos after stints with the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees and Oakland A’s.
The left fielder started the game against the New York Mets. When he stepped to the plate in the second inning for his first at-bat as an Expo since 1990, the crowd of 45,183 erupted.
“I got a standing ovation during that whole at-bat,” Raines said as a smile stretched across his face. “It was so loud and went on so long that I got walked by the pitcher. He couldn’t throw a strike.
“To know that the fans appreciate you in that kind of fashion means a lot. It’s what you play for. Hearing those fans in Montreal, at the Big O, the more they cheered the more I wanted to just do my best for them.”
The Expos won that game 10-6.
Twelve years later, Raines stood in front of a sizable crowd of people wearing Expos hats in St. Marys, Ont. One fan waved a small orange stuffed animal in the air as the latest member of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame gave his induction speech.
“Youppi, there he is right there,” Raines said with a laugh, noticing the miniature version of Montreal’s mascot.
It’s those types of things that make Raines hopeful that Major League Baseball might return to Montreal.
“I hope so badly they get a team back there, I really do,” Raines said. “Being a guy who played there for years, I know that the fan support is there and it’s unfair to them that they had to lose their team.
“Hopefully the right people come together and they can bring a team back to that city.”Report Typo/Error