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Monsieur Baseball finds minor league home Add to ...

Monsieur Baseball has settled comfortably into a rickety broadcast booth that is close to home plate but about as far from the major leagues as a baseball professional can be.

After 33 years jetting around North America as the French voice of the Montreal Expos, Jacques Doucet has found a home with the Quebec Capitales, a team in the Can-Am League very near the bottom of the food chain of pro baseball.

As he calls the radio action from his open-air booth with a blustery wind blowing in Quebec City's intimate 80-year-old baseball stadium, Doucet insists his turn to minor league baseball is far from a demotion.

He says it has given him a second life.

"I'm having a ball," says Doucet, 67, as he huddles in his plywood broadcast booth with fellow Info 800 announcer Francois Paquet.

"A lot of people say it's like going from the majors to the minor leagues as a ball player. Not to me. To me, baseball is baseball. It's the same old story. It's a pitcher against a hitter and once the ball is hit, somebody has to catch it."

A few rows below, Joe Cloutier is the first fan to settle onto his cushion on his high backed bench seat resembling a church pew with a fresh coat of yellow paint.

Cloutier, 77, has barely missed a game since the Capitales started playing in 1999. He glances back at Doucet, and passes the judgment of a seasoned fan.

"That man is the top, the cream of the crop," he says in French. "He gives this team respectability and credibility. He is Monsieur Baseball."

Doucet is a French baseball pioneer. He was one of a few early experts who invented, adopted and popularized new terms to describe baseball in French with the advent of the Expos in the late 1960s.

During the Expos' first season in 1969, sportswriters and broadcasters met to hash out more friendly words for baseball terminology. Doucet was at the meeting where favourite terms like "balle papillon" (knuckleball) and "vol-au-sol" (shoestring catch) were crafted.

Doucet was left to improvise many others during the long pauses between pitches over more than 50,000 innings on the air.

Doucet was set adrift in 2004 when the Expos left Montreal for Washington, D.C., and no longer needed a French voice, ending the era of French broadcasting in big-league baseball.

He spent a year writing advertising copy and shopping his baseball expertise to Quebec newspapers. He found no takers. After the decade-long debacle of the Expos' decline and departure, baseball had tanked in Quebec.

"I didn't know exactly where to go, I was a little downhearted," Doucet remembers. "Nothing materialized. I felt I could still offer something interesting for the readers. But obviously baseball was not on top of the agenda for the newspapers. I didn't want to stay home and twiddle my thumbs."

After nearly two years, Michel Laplante, the Capitales' manager, called him to offer a job broadcasting home games.

Doucet would commute from his home near Montreal. Laplante found him a comfortable chalet in the woods north of Quebec City where he could stay during multi-day homestands.

"I told him, 'As long as it doesn't cost money out of my own pocket, I'll do it gladly,"' Doucet says. "To me it's just like a second birth that Michel Laplante and the Capitales have given me."

Laplante says the chance to have Doucet broadcast games gave the seven-year-old Capitales an instant boost of credibility.

It was desperately needed after the untold damage the long decline of the Expos did to baseball in the province.

"We thought it was credibility before Jacques arrived, but once he arrived here, we realized it's so much more than that," Laplante said in a dugout interview just before game time. "It's stronger than credibility. It's integrity, it's prominence, it's all that together. He's simply in love with baseball, baseball in Quebec. He wants it to endure."

Doucet clings to the fading hope he might one day make the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. He was third in fan balloting for the Ford. C. Frick Award in 2005, but has failed to make the top 10 since.

Doucet was among the elder statesmen of baseball announcers, but others have passed him in longevity since the Expos left.

Because he broadcast games in French, few of the people who cast final votes for admission to Cooperstown have heard Doucet work.

"It's tough for a French-Canadian to cross the border," Doucet says. "If I can get into Cooperstown, it would be great, really the pinnacle of my career. But I'm also a realist. It's tough for a kid from Quebec City to cross that threshold."

The very language barrier that might keep Doucet out of Cooperstown should be one of the main factors in his favour.

When Doucet started, "losange" was the word for the diamond. He eventually settled on "carre" - or square - instead. It's a word that is now in common use.

When a player was caught between bases, Doucet sought the advice of a linguist to settle on the expression that he was "pris a contre-pied," or "caught on the wrong foot."

A 1935 French-English dictionary put out by the Societe de parler francais au Canada offered a series of literal translations such as "jeu de balle aux buts" for baseball. Eventually broadcasters stuck with "baseball."

Doucet recalls the strange sensation of attending a minor baseball game involving his nephew during the 1981 strike, when he normally should have been busy with the Expos.

"Very few people knew I was there, and you could hear the expressions being picked up by the fans," he says. "It was a great moment, because you knew you were not talking into empty air.

"They were listening and really picking up what we were trying to do."

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