- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"I had a lot of fun playing with Montreal," says the L.A.-bound Brooks. "My decision was strictly business." Nevertheless, Brooks's contract with the Dodgers stipulates that he can't be traded without his consent to 13 of 14 American League cities or to one National League city—you guessed it, Montreal.
There's no question that Montreal is different from cities in the U.S. Not a day goes by without something happening to remind an American that he is not at home. Most signs are, by law, in French only; the five-dollar bill is blue and the fifty is pink; you can't make a right turn on red; the centerfielder is the "centre fielder." "Complaints from the wives have filtered back to us," says Stoneman. "They don't like the bilingual labels on the cans. There are some different brands. Now it's Aylmer's soup instead of Campbell's."
Bryn Smith's wife, Patti, said last summer that she would often make the hour-long drive across the border to Plattsburgh, N.Y., to pick up "important staples, like Doritos." Bryn noted that people often use gravy on french fries and serve soft drinks without ice but said, "We can live without ketchup on our french fries and Coke without ice to play on a team like this." (To which Don MacPherson, columnist for the Montreal Gazette, replied: "But then, pitchers in the National League have to be able to sacrifice.") Four months later, Smith signed with the Cardinals.
In the city of Quebec, the cultural quandary is more pronounced. Consider the plight of Heather Cirella, wife of Nordique defenseman Joe Cirella (both are from Ontario). Heather is having a bad week. The dry cleaner has ruined some clothes, but she doesn't speak enough French, and the cleaner doesn't speak enough English for them to agree on reparation. She was involved in a minor traffic accident, and when a policeman arrived on the scene, only the other driver could give her side of the story because the officer spoke no English.
"It isn't horrible, it isn't hell, it isn't impossible, but it's not super easy, not life as you're used to living it," says Heather, who had earned her teaching certificate and had lined up a job in New Jersey before Joe was traded by the Devils last June. "It's culture shock. Your life is a little less complete. I can't work and can't study because the university [Laval] is French. There isn't a broad range of English movies in the theaters. We used to go twice a week in New Jersey; now Joe and I go once a month. We can't get an English paper delivered to our door, so it's tough to follow news about the team. The announcements in the arena are in French only. I can't speak the language, so I'm not involved in charity functions, I'm not as immersed in the community. The Nordique organization has been great, but I can't take an interpreter with me to the grocery or the cleaners.
"Quebec is a beautiful city," says Heather. "It's charming, quaint. There are things I like. When I first came here, I looked at it as an adventure, almost like a vacation. Then it dawns on you: It's not a vacation. It's your life."
Tony Hrkac, who joined the Nordiques in the Millen trade with the Blues, says his chief regret is that he was a C student in French at his Thunder Bay, Ont., grammar school. "Who would have thought you'd actually need the language?" says Hrkac in the Nordiques' dressing room, cradling his book French in 10 Minutes a Day. When the non-French-speaking players on the Nordiques arrive at work, life gets a bit easier: English is the language of practices and the dressing room. The team spends some $60,000 a year on what it calls "integration," trying to make the players feel comfortable in the city, briefing them on how to find bilingual doctors, lawyers, plumbers. Aubut says that only two players, John Ogrodnick and Brad Maxwell, have asked to be traded specifically because they could not adapt to the city—and both were granted their wish. Aubut claims that several players, such as Clint Malarchuk, Dale Hunter and David Shaw, were saddened by being traded. "You never hear that other side," he says.
The Expos, too, have had their share of enlightened transplants. For every Wayne Twitchell, a pitcher who made the Dr. Strangeloveian pronouncement in 1979 that melting snow from the Laurentian Mountains had tainted the water supply and caused his upset stomachs, there is a Rusty Staub. The most popular player in the history of the franchise, Staub cemented his celebrity by learning some French. Both Staub and Gary Carter, another well-liked Expo, were caring and clever—or calculating—enough to sprinkle French into their speech whenever they made public appearances. For every David Palmer, a pitcher who burned a two-dollar bill while leading some teammates in a sarcastic rendition of O Canada on their return from the final road trip of the 1985 season, there is a Chris Speier. Speier, a former Expo shortstop, and his wife, Aleta, enrolled their children in a French school; in 1983, when their daughter, Erika, sang her rendition of O Canada, it was in front of thousands before an Expo game at Olympic Stadium—and in French.
"I was absolutely delighted when the Expos took me in the expansion draft [in 1968]," says Stoneman, who pitched two no-hitters and became one of the franchise's first stars. "It was a chance to go to Europe without going to Europe. I think a lot of guys felt that way then. About a dozen families stayed that whole winter. We stayed here because we wanted to stay here."
No more. Since Speier left in 1984, not one player has made Montreal his year-round home. Montreal, of course, is not the only cold-weather city that experiences a population drop around Oct. 1. Dombrowski recalls the annual player migration south from his days in the White Sox front office. "The difference," he says, "is that a lot of players settled in Chicago after their careers. They became a part of the community."