It was a genius plan.
It all began a week or two before when I was chatting with Dave Sliepka, a veteran in the hobby who was, at the time, working at Beckett. I was working at Pacific in Seattle at that time, and we were talking about doing something at the 2002 National in Chicago.
“We should go to a baseball game when we are there,” Dave said. I was completely on board with that. I have still never been to either of the ballparks in Chicago despite being to the city several times over the years. It’s almost embarrassing that I have never been to Wrigley Field.
We checked out the schedule, and the Cubs were on the road.
“Wait a minute!” Dave said excitedly. “The Expos are in Milwaukee Friday night!”
“Is that far?” I asked.
Dave, who grew up in Chicago, laughed. “No. It’s like an hour and a half drive,” he said.
He knew I was a die-hard Expos fan. My hometown of Prescott, Ontario, a border town which is a swim across the St. Lawrence River from Ogdensburg, NY, is about a two-hour drive from Montreal.
My First Game
I was five when the Expos were an expansion team.
Almost everyone at home was a Yankees fan, because their games were broadcast on the radio from Ogdensburg and on TV from Watertown, NY. Because the Expos were a National League team, a lot of people in the town followed both teams. They were in different leagues, so as fans back then, that was possible. When the Blue Jays joined the AL East a few years later, that was completely different.
My dad took me to my first Expos game was in 1969. It was against the Cardinals. Bob Gibson was pitching. I remember seeing Joe Torre, Ted Simmons and Lou Brock. Even though Jarry Parc was a little pop-up temporary stadium, the whole experience was jaw-dropping and life-altering for me.
Until the great ice storm of January, 1998 flooded the basement in my parents’ rural home, I still had the program from that game and every professional sports event that I had gone to. And by the way, old programs are still a great deal at auctions and on eBay. Since the pandemic started, I have been trying to re-purchase the programs of every sporting event from my childhood, mostly in Montreal, Toronto, or nearby Ottawa.
The bro-night with Dave Sliepka would be the last time I saw the Montreal Expos play. He knew I was hard core, and he planned the whole thing. He used his Beckett connections to get us tickets in Milwaukee. His wife, Bev, was in Chicago as they travelled to the National as a family. Anytime a trip so that kids can visit their grandparents coincides with the National is a no-brainer.
“As soon as Bev gets here, I am going to give her the keys, and then we are going to take the shuttle bus to Alamo. I’ve got a car reserved, and we are going to go from there, straight to Milwaukee,” said.
I was excited, like I was when I was five and went to that first Expos game. And by this time, I figured it would be my last chance to see them before Major League Baseball would move the franchise.
At about 5:05 PM, we left the Beckett booth at the National and hopped on the shuttle bus to Alamo.
“That’s weird,” he said when he got to the car. “It’s got Nebraska license plates.”
We put our stuff in the car. At the National, I found a vendor selling team flags. He didn’t have an Expos flag, but he had a Montreal Canadiens flag. I figured I could wear it as a cape. I did find an Expos hat there, so my outfit was a little bit piecemeal, but it screamed “obnoxious Canadian Expos fan.”
Who Wants White Castle?
“Are you hungry?” Dave asked once we hit the road.
“Kind of,” I said. “Do you want to get something to eat at the game?”
“I’m starving,” he said. “There’s a White Castle at the next exit. Do you want to get some sliders?”
I didn’t know what sliders were. I had heard of White Castle but I had never been there. We didn’t have sliders or White Castle in Canada. And when I had lived in Dallas and Seattle, they didn’t have White Castle there, either.
Dave explained to me how White Castle works. We ordered our sliders, and we were on our way.
“The thing about White Castle,” he said, “is that as good as it tastes, if you leave the trash in your car overnight, it will smell pretty bad.”
We had a good laugh and off we went to Milwaukee.
We were almost at the stadium when we hit the Friday traffic jam. We put the game on the radio and heard Bob Uecker on the call as the Expos scored eight or nine runs in the first inning. Vladimir Guerrero had hit a home run and Les Boys were on their way to a big win before their pitcher even took the mound.
Finally, we got into the parking lot. Dave parked, and we bolted for the stadium. They were already in the bottom of the second inning. We had missed way too much baseball.
After we were in our seats for a few innings, things started to get interesting. We went to the concession stand to get a sausage on a bun. The guy looked at me and said, “You’re not from around here, are ya?” That was funny.
A few minutes later, Dave and I were standing by a little kiosk for Dippin’ Dots, the Ice Cream of the Future. I’ve never had Dippin’ Dots, still to this day. And I was about to rant to Dave about when, exactly, does the future begin, and what will happen to regular ice cream?
Then these two idiots walked up to us. They were sort of like Wayne and Garth, maybe a little bit like Bill and Ted, but not as bright.
“Canada sucks!” one guy said, like he was trying to provoke us.
“Hay Dave, look,” I said. “It’s Lenny and Squiggy! Their shift at the brewery ended in time for them to come to the came!”
That was the only Milwaukee-ish comeback I could think of.
Then one of them, the guy who would be wearing the I’m With stupid t-shirt in this scenario, pulled out a big lighter.
“Let’s get him!” he yelled.
He was standing there trying to light my flag/cape on fire. I had half a sausage in one hand and a big Diet Coke in the other, and I wasn’t sure what to do. So I ran. Dave just stayed behind laughing while these two morons chased me around the concourse trying to light my flag on fire.
Eventually, I saw a cop standing beside a bank machine like he was there doing security. I just posted up next to him and started chatting, and eventually my new friends got distracted by a half-eaten bag of pork rinds in one of their jacket pockets and they left me alone.
Dave and I eventually got back to our seats and enjoyed the sound thrashing the Expos were putting on the Brewers. Then, during a break between innings, Pump Up the Jam by Technotronic started playing.
“I’ll be back,” I told Dave.
I went to the bottom of our row where there was a bit of room, and pulled out every great 1980s dance move I could think of. If Napoleon Dynamite had a love child with Shabadoo and Boogaloo Shrimp from the movie Breakin’, I was it. The people around me laughed – at me, not with me I’m guessing – Dave was taking pictures, and I got on the Jumbotron. I got booed pretty loudly because of the whole Montreal head-to-toe thing. But it was fun.
Dude, Where’s Your Car?
Eventually, the game ended. We left our seats, went out the exit, walked about 30 or 40 steps, and then stopped to a dead halt. We looked at each other. We were thinking the same thing.
“Where did we park?” Dave said. We were in such a hurry to get into the game that neither of us paid any attention whatsoever to where we parked.
“I can’t remember,” I said. “In fact, I don’t even remember the make of the car. Do you?”
“No,” he said. “Do you remember what color it is?”
“Ummm, maybe dark blue?” I replied. “I remember it has Nebraska license plates.”
“Yeah that’s right!” he said, like we were Shaggy and Scoobie and we just came up with a clue.
So we started walking through the parking lot. There were several parking lots, all with a lot of cars. People were tailgating in the parking lot after the game and when they saw us, they would say hi and chat for a while.
“Well, we hope you find your car,” they would say, which sounded an awful lot like, “Well Pee-Wee, we hope you find your bike.”
After about an hour of us wandering aimlessly through the parking lot, one guy drove by us and yelled, “Go back to Canada!”
Dave piped up.
“He can’t. We can’t find our rental car.”
At 12:30 AM, when most of the parking lot had cleared out, we found it. The blue Ford we were looking turned out to be a silver Chevrolet. There it was, in all its majestic glory, with Nebraska license plates and White Castle trash in the back window.
Dave opened up the car. The smell speedbagged our sinuses.
“Told you it would smell,” Dave said, laughing hysterically. “It’s a good thing it’s a rental.”
We laughed the entire way home and relived every moment of our road trip to Milwaukee. It was fun, the people were amazing, except for Lenny and Squiggy. We saw the sausage race, and we had about the best time you could possibly have at a baseball game.
We endured the next two days of the National. As much as I loved manning the Pacific booth with Mike Monson and talking to collectors and asking questions about our products, I was exhausted. The rest of the show was a bit of a blur.
I always tell people the National is amazing, but the real memories are made with your friends doing something after the show or in conjunction with the show. I haven’t been to the show in a few years, and I won’t be there this year with the Canadian border still closed.
When I think of the National, that memory is the first thing I think of. My mind goes to going to my first Expos game, some of the Expos autographs and cards I have bought at the National, and then my last Expos game.
I know that when I do get to the National next time, Dave and I won’t be able to go see an Expos game.
But we can go to White Castle.