Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A Few Times

In order to keep both of I, Musical Genius's readers abreast of what is going in my life and to frame the post that will follow, I will give the following bit of news: I did not get into any of the doctorate programs that I applied to for this year.

This has been weighing on me a lot for the past month. I was really looking forward to going back to school and I've sorrowfully missed the academic environment since I've been out of it. I feel like teaching is my "thing" that I am good at and I feel like I've never been better at it than when I was in a university classroom. It sucks.

Now that my plans for the future have been altered, I've been thinking about what I am going to do and how I am going to deal with the way I feel. In general, there has been two main ways that I have done this:

1. Try to write a song about what you're feeling. It usually amounts to scattered phrases in two notebooks, one or two riffs and very little thought given to melody.

2. Write a post on here to work through things. I don't always directly address things that are happening in my life, but they are generally the inspiration for what goes up here, even if it seems like the ties are tenuous.

This all made me think about when I first started I, Musical Genius in the winter of 2009. I was having a hard time dealing with my feelings and I treated this website as a garbage dump for the young, dramatic mess that was in my head at the time. A lot of posts were short and over-dramatic and I might as well have stamped "JUST DUMPED" on my forehead. I was young and silly and needed a way to exorcise those feelings, so even though a lot of the old stuff on here is pretty mortifying, it did serve a purpose at one time. 

Coming forward and being honest about where you are at mentally is the first step in terms of having a healthier head and IMU was my way of doing that at the time. It's also not enough to just open a valve and let emotions gush out either. You need to have tact and understand how to deal with them rationally.

That leads us to today, where I am writing a post that comes from a similar place as my early ones, but instead of posting a break-up song or vague allusions that I thought were poetic, I'm being more direct and mature (I think). That's a tangible example of at least a little growth as person, so please remember that you're doing all right, Tim.

In order to make this a true classic IMU post, I'll end with a song. Am I finally coming around on Untitled? No, but you must respect that this one is a banger.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Flags Fly Forever

I’ve recently had two separate trains of thought returning to my mind and have only just located why.

The first is that baseball is back and I have been thinking a lot about it. It feels good. I’m already rediscovering the routine of putting on the game while I make dinner, passively soaking in what’s happening while I’m preoccupied and then reading articles by John Lott and Andrew Stoeten the next morning about the night before. Rebecca is already outraged that The Boys somehow manage to be on the radio every time we get in the car. It’s familiar and comfortable.

But while it is comfortable, it feels different. The character of this year’s team is much different than last year’s and that is due to a huge turnover in players, which was the biggest since the now-legendary trade deadline acquisitions in 2015. I knew that this would be a “new look” team taking the field but had underestimated how much the change in players would change the experience of watching the Toronto Blue Jays play baseball. It’s slight, but noticeable. Not everyone is gone, but many of the big players in Toronto’s 2015 march to the playoffs have steadily departed and been replaced by players who, while still capable, do not seem as dynamic at first. As I was trying to pinpoint what exactly was at the root of this feeling, it came upon me like turning a corner and hitting a tree:

Jose Bautista does not play Right Field for the 2018 Blue Jays.

I suppose that I had expected this sort of impact to come after a franchise icon left the team, but I was still surprised by it. Sure, David Price led the march to the playoffs and Josh Donaldson won the MVP, but make no mistake, the Blue Jays have been Jose Bautista’s team since 2010.

This was brought up by second thought, which was me reflecting on the story “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” written by John Updike for The New Yorker in 1960. His story follows him as he goes to Fenway Park in Boston to see Ted Williams’ last game for the team he played his whole career with. Updike’s piece is masterpiece and perfectly sums up the career of one of the greatest to ever play the game. Not only running through Williams’ extensive list of accomplishments, Updike also does an amazing job of covering exactly what it means to be a franchise player. You are never universally loved by the fans. You are criticized by the sporting press for not coming through in every high-pressure situation you face. You are deemed greedy for… some reason. There is an ebb and flow to periods of intense scrutiny when you are not singlehandedly carrying the load of an entire team and then even more intense affection when you miraculously manage to do just that.

In hindsight, many fans manage to forget the bitter feelings they used to hold when the occasion for a celebratory farewell comes along. Updike describes Boston coming together to see off Ted Williams, all of them realizing the significance of the situation. Similarly, last year I was present, standing, and applauding as Jose ran out to right field by himself for the last time. Fittingly, Marcus Stroman ensured that the P.A. played Drake’s “Trophys”, which was long Jose’s signature at-bat music, for the occasion.

Saying farewell to an athlete is a unique and intimate situation. It doesn’t carry the finality of visiting a dying relative or going to a funeral. They aren’t dying. They aren’t even going away, necessarily. They are just stopping to do what you have grown to love them for doing. Seeing Jose play his last game at the SkyDome instantly reminded me of all the great things he accomplished for the team. Essentially, you are watching the end of a hero, only instead of a hero valiantly dying, like in the movies, he retires to Florida to play golf.

This past weekend, Rebecca and I visited my parents for Easter dinner. As always, the Jays came up in conversation and shortly after that, Jose. As of this writing, he has still not signed a contract for the 2019 season, so he wasn’t playing baseball. My mom rued that he hadn’t simply retired as a Blue Jay in 2018, which was the right and honourable thing to do in her eyes. She said that that would have been a perfect way to end his time with the team.

This struck me as weird because in my mind his farewell was perfect. It was an organic response by the fanbase and incredibly sincere. Everyone understood the importance of Jose Bautista and giving him an earnest, emotional send off. We stood and applauded when he was introduced, before every at bat, and once more when he was taken out of the game in the top of the 9th inning. To me, there was no way to better honour his legacy with the team.

I started to think about “perfect situations” and whether they exist or not. It certainly would have been great to have pregame ceremony in which his name was added to the Blue Jays’ “Level of Excellence”, permanently adding his legacy to our park, but that was out of the question given the circumstance and him not retiring. The reality is that even if you meticulously plan something out, it will never come out completely perfectly. Perfection is achieved by being present. It is only in hindsight that we can look back on something, disregard any flaws and accept what we received as perfect.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Useless History

In a past life, I was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1957. I started to smoke cigarettes when I was 12 years old. I started drinking and smoking pot after my older brother brought me out with his friends and we listened to Led Zeppelin II. In 1975, I drove home drunk from a Cheap Trick show and died rolling the car over in a ditch on an empty highway. My best friend died with me that night.

In a past life, I was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1904. I started working as a brick-layer when I was 15 years old, the same job as my father who immigrated from the south of Italy shortly before I was born. As a young boy, I fall in love with the Brooklyn Robins. As a young man, I fall in love with the youngest daughter of a Dutch family. I went to lots of games with my son at Ebbets Field. I died of a heart attack in 1953.

In a past life, I was born in Reading, England in 1830. My father worked for the Great Western Railroad and sent me to study in London when I turned 18. I studied literature, took an interest in art, and travelled to Paris twice to see the Salon. I wrote a novel, The Line, about the expansion of the British Railroad and it was unsuccessful. I worked my whole life for a publishing press. I lived for 71 years, had four children, took three mistresses, and died when I fell ill with the flu.

In a past life, I was born in Paris in 1764. My father was a baker and my mother took care of our Third Estate family at home. My father read the newspaper aloud to me every day. In 1789, I participated in the storming of the Bastille and was shot in the leg. In 1790, I briefly joined the Jacobin club. I fathered a daughter with a woman I knew and did a bad job of supporting them. In 1792, my lame leg caused me to trip at the Tuileries and I was trampled by the crowd and died alone.

In a past life, I was born in Valencia, Spain in 1602. I grew up on a family farm and then started my own when I turned 20. When I was 17, I married a 16-year-old girl from my town. When I was 22, she became pregnant and died during birth. The baby also died. When we bought our farm, we got a Spanish Water Dog puppy and named him Diego. He lived to be 13 and was my best friend. I died at age 50 from skin cancer.

In a past life, I was born in Changde, Huang in 1535. My father was a rich aristocrat and provided for me my entire life. When I was 24, I met a young girl from another wealthy family and our families arranged for us to be married. We took to each other immediately and she made me very happy for my entire life. I died of respiratory problems at age 74. I considered myself very lucky when I got to look at my wife’s face in my last moments.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

This is What Happens When You Fuck a Stranger in the Ass

All of my writing energy has been focused on a zine about ska that I've been working on. It's almost done, which is good! I've also neglected other outlets, like the friendly green confines here, which is bad, I guess, but also expected. The emotions and inspiration that I usually draw upon to make up the backbone of the posts that I'm proud of here are being re-directed towards the zine, so we've been left with spare parts around here lately. If I'm not writing about my thoughts and ~feelings~, I try to take another interest and draw that out, which is why it's been mostly "Baseball Hour" on IMU for the last two months.

Well, that an Opening Day being only 15 days away at this writing!

Anyways, I thought that I would try to give an update on my life to mix things up around here and get me out of my comfort zone.

I should preface what's coming next with this statement:

I am very lucky. I've found someone who is my perfect match and makes me so happy and a better person. We live together and still get along really well. We have a huge, nice dog and small, nice cat (who doesn't have Kidney Disease!). I'm mostly healthy, have an okay job, and can play most blink-182 songs on guitar. I say all of this so that what I follow it with doesn't sound as whine-y and entitled as I worry it does in my head.

The main thing that I have been preoccupied with since September has been preparing and submitting applications to start a PhD in Art History this coming fall. First, I applied to SSHRC, which takes a long time. Then I had meetings. Then an online application. Then letters of reference. Then transcripts. Then letters of intent. Then writing samples. I submitted both applications a week early so that I would like I was very "on top of things". We had a dinner with both Rebecca and I's parents to celebrate me getting the applications off. Then the waiting started.

I felt good about  my chances. I'm coming off a Fellowship at a well-respected art gallery, have good references from former professors, and think my thesis is still okay, which I understand is a rarity among grad students.

Then I heard back from Queen's University that they had turned me down. I wanted to type "rejected" there, but thought that was a little dramatic. I was blindsided by this and felt really bad about it. Rebecca and I had been day-dreaming about how much fun moving to Kingston would be. We could afford to rent a house! A Backyard! Onsite laundry! No more drunk 20-year-olds on Fridays!

This rejection was the first professional obstacle I had run into in a while. I had applied for an MA and gotten it. I was a good T.A. I kept teaching through university. I finished my thesis. I applied for a job and got that. I applied for a better job and got that. As soon as I started that job, my next step became "starting a PhD right after". Since then, I have been building my life around the idea that starting a PhD in 2018 would be my next step towards my eventual job as a university professor. This threw that all for a loop. My life was no longer a direct line ending with me being secure professionally doing what I love and playing a tiger-print Ibanez guitar while Rebecca gazes on adoringly.

I still haven't heard back from the other school I applied to, so nothing is set in stone, but I've to open up my worldview a little bit. I'm in between two eventual outcomes, either starting school or having to find a new job, but not committing to either one. I've had to resign to the fact that some things are out of my control and allow parts of my life to be dictated by forces other than me.

My initial confidence in my chances at the two schools has now faltered and I have no idea what to think. Is it good that I still haven't heard? Does it mean they're waiting to tell me? Does it mean I'm on a waiting list? It's hard to know and it's become a constant, dull stress in my life.

I Could Meet You Where the Shield and the Mountains Collide

I am a man of simple pleasures and I know what I like.

I like breakdowns.

I like palm-muting.

There are certainly worse ways to start your day off than finding two great releases by local bands. It's important for me to remember to stay active in looking for bands and shows that I'll enjoy in Toronto. That shit ain't gonna fall into your lap.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

If I Had It in Me, To Stop My Random Thoughts and My Dumb Dreams

Last night, I went to go see Less Than Jake play for what (I think) was the 15th time. Among those 15 shows are many that I count as some of my favourite times ever. Seeing the band play Losing Streak in its entirety while I was in 11th grade was a formative experience for me as a music fan and there were also many times where feelings of confusion and self-doubt that were circling in my mind were momentarily clarified by the peace I would feel watching the band play.

I've always viewed seeing the band as a ritualistic thing; a thread that I can follow through various stages of my life and something that has always managed to contextualize thoughts and worries I have at that particular moment. It's equally enjoyable to see the band on my own, when I get to make the experience all about myself, or with share it with someone else, when I get to share some special to me with someone else.

Knowing that they are my favourite band, my sister bought me tickets for the show as a Christmas present, which was a nice gesture since my super fandom of the band has turned into a big fan herself. We went to go see Less Than Jake together in 2014 and it was a great night that brought us much closer together as siblings. This time I was bringing my partner Rebecca with me, who had never seen the band before, but knew about my embarrassing fervour for them. It was exciting to be able to bring along somebody that I love and introduce them to something else that I love.

In the days leading up to the show, my excitement started to really ramp up. It had been about 4 years since the last time I had seen the band, which was the longest I had gone in between LTJ sets. When I was younger, I used to lament gaps in sets this long, but this time I hadn't even noticed it until I looked up how long it had been. As you get older, some of your priorities change and things like PhD applications start to take precedence over seeing a ska-punk band play at Wakestock.

The show was a true throwback to an earlier version of Timmy as Four Year Strong, who I was briefly infatuated with in my younger days, were direct support for LTJ. I hadn't listened to the band, or really that type of music, in a long time and Becks remarked that being at the show was like looking at a younger version of themselves, which I echoed. I hadn't been to a big concert like that in a long time, so the set-up of a big stage in a big room featuring a big band going through the set they've prepared for a major tour was very unfamiliar to me.

I was downright giddy as we waited for Less Than Jake to take the stage. I said "I'm so excited." numerous times and inundated Rebecca with anecdotes about previous shows and useless information about the band. I can be a real shitty "male music fan" sometimes, but when it comes to Less Than Jake, I just can't help it. I love them so much and as soon as they come up in any conversation, I lose any faculty in moderating what comes out of my mouth.

They're my favourite, you know?

The set started with the band playing Mark Metcalf's monologue from Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It" music video over the P.A. before Roger yelled "I wanna rock!" and they opened with my favourite track of theirs "Sugar in Your Gas Tank".


The next song that the band played was "The Ghosts of You and Me", which is maybe my second favourite song of theirs. You kidding me?!

However, my excitement subsided a bit when they got to the verse of the song and the band was noticeably off-time with each other. Chris was having a lot of trouble keeping up with the pace of the song and was fumbling some of the riffs that weren't super difficult to begin. I chalked it up to it being early in the set and him not being warmed up yet, hoping that the rest of the set would go better.

It didn't really though. It became obvious as it wore on that only two of the members of the band were still capable enough to pull it off live. A lot of songs were slowed down and most had parts where the members were significantly out of sync with each other. It bummed me out a lot to watch it live. There were still glimpses of their former glory (a super tight "How's My Driving, Doug Hastings?" and pulling out the superb deep-cut "1989"), but for the most part it seemed like the band had aged 10 years in the 4 it had been since I saw them.

Their live shows have always been filled with shenanigans, like when they had a huge spinning wheel to determine the song they would play next, but it seemed like they were pausing a lot during this set in between songs to the detriment of the experience. At one point they pulled four audience members onstage to have a dance-off for the entirety of the next song that they were going to play, which turned out to be "Look What Happened". Guys, if you're going to play what is, without a doubt, one of the best punk songs ever, you don't need a gimmick onstage to distract from it. Let the song speak for itself, because it's really, really good.

Sidenote: I downloaded this live video on Kazaa while I was in high school. It's one of my favourite videos ever and still makes me so happy watching it right now.

One of my favourite things about seeing Less Than Jake is that there's always a significant amount of older fans who have clearly been coming to the shows for a while in the crowd. Yesterday's show wasn't an exception and the older contingent was out in full force, with me being a member now. Part way through the set, Chris introduced a song as being "an old one" and then the band started "Overrated", to my confusion. Then I realized that that song is 12 years old.

But what was most confusing was that all of the young crowd embraced the song wholeheartedly. It's not that I hate the song, as I got over my "LTJ fan In With the Out Crowd" disdain a long time ago, but it's that I remember when playing that song was met with groans by the audience and the band did it with shit-eating grins the whole time. There was definitely a time when playing the poppy songs off of In With the Out Crowd was a whole "thing" for fans of the band, but now it seems like that record has been subsumed into the rest of their back catalogue. Sometimes you don't notice how much things have changed until you get a clear and glaring sign, and this was one of those.

When the band had trouble working through a couple more older songs, I suddenly realized that this would probably be my last time going to see the band. There's no point in continuing the ritual when the experience isn't really fun anymore. That saddened me at first, but once I sat in that initial sadness for a bit, I decided that rather than sulk I would embrace the show as the way I would see them go out. I still sang along to every song and the words still meant a lot to me.

The set reminded me of two things more so than anything else.

First: A couple of years ago, I saw Propagandhi touring on the album Failed States. They played a decent set that, obviously, leaned on their new album, as most bands touring a new album do, but during the set I realized that I more than likely wouldn't be going to see Propagandhi live anymore. This sounds very judgmental and grandiose, but it's supposed to be more of a personal statement. It was a private moment where I thought that to myself. I was a little sad that the band was the same as when I fell in love with them and I wouldn't get to see that anymore, but I also thought "...and that's okay." All the power to them to keep touring and putting out records, but I believe that I passed the point where I would get really exciting to go to that show. The same thing happened yesterday with Less Than Jake.

Second: Before Less Than Jake played, Becks and I were talking about Reel Big Fish, because they are one of the few third wave ska acts who are still actively touring. Whereas Less Than Jake has had the same lineup since 1999, and the came core members since its inception, we were discussing how RBF has turned into frontman Aaron Barrett playing with a different case of touring musicians each year. I thought it was sad to see someone trying to force the band to keep going when it's not nearly the same experience as it was with the members who participated in writing the songs initially and lauded LTJ for staying together.

Now in hindsight, I'm not so sure. Less Than Jake illustrated that though it's very cool that the members have stuck with it, not everyone ages well as a musician. People get old and stop playing as much. The band that was their entire life for all of their adulthood is now something they tour in for part of the year. I'm sure that RBF, with its cast of pitch perfect studio players, is much tighter live than the version of Less Than Jake that I saw yesterday, but then again, who wants to go see an old Aaron Barrett play with a bunch of young guys who learned the song before the tour? Also not ideal.

I'm not sure that I can come up with a concrete answer to that riddle. Realistically, I would that bands would hang it up once they realize they can't do it the same as they used to (I extremely pro "blaze of glory"), but that's easier said than done.

Having said all of this, yesterday's show does not change LTJ's place in my heart at all. One subpar show doesn't erase 14 amazing ones or two decades of great music. Watching that "Look What Happened" video above, or this one of them playing three songs at Reading Festival (I have watched this more than any other video on the internet) still stirs up strong feelings of love and belonging. I even felt a little guilty writing this post, because so much of it was me explaining how bad the set was. Nothing can take away what the band has meant to me and so many others, I still think that they deserve to be applauded more than they have been for all that they've done.

Long live Less Than Jake. Less Than Jake forever. Thank you for being the best band in the world for so long.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Something Special Will Recede as Something Boring Swells

The upcoming season of Toronto Blue Jays baseball feels like one of transition, more so than any one in recent memory. While the team's corporate office tries to constantly remind the fanbase of the landmark years that team is passing, by placing a 40th anniversary patch on an arm or by playing highlights celebrating the 25th birthday of Joe Carter's home run, this period of flux instead came through the natural ebb and flow that all professional sports teams experience. There's several events that had led me to believe that the 2018 Blue Jays season will be very unlike those that preceded it. Here's why, I guess.

The seeds of this shift start last June when Jose Bautista's hot month of batting in May faded into a mediocre June that lasted until September. The strong and mighty Jose, who threw a shitty team designed to secure good prospects over his shoulder and marched towards contention, was now older and not nearly the same player. I was still happy to applaud his accomplishments and he deserves his fanfare until the day he dies, but I will admit that it was much more fun to watch him hit timely, towering revenge home runs than set the team's single-season strikeout record.

Now, the Jays have reported to Dunedin in February without Jose Bautista for the first time since 2009. We've been fortunate to welcome many great players to the team over the last 4 years or so, but none of them usurped Jose as the "face" of the team. To American fans who don't consume all of their sports media through Sportsnet, Jose was the only player they heard about from Toronto. From my perspective as a fan, there certainly seemed to be a "Jose Bautista Era" for the Jays from 2010-2017. That's done now, so a new identity for the team will have to emerge, no matter what it looks like.

Also of note is that the team's all-time greatest player died in a plane crash this past November. Rather than try to write something else about Roy Halladay, I will instead link to something I've already written.

The team recently announced that they will retire his number, 32, on Opening Day and the team will wear a memorial black "32" patch on the sleeve of their uniforms for all of the 2018 season. If Doc is to become just the second player to have his number retired, then it follows that his name will also be added to the "Level of Excellence" which is enshrined on the facing of the 4th deck at the Dome. A new version of the team, with few returning faces from the 2015 AL East Champions, will seem all the more different with a dark spectre of the team's past looking down on the field from above.

If these circumstances were not enough, yet another thread in the history of the Blue Jays was cut this week as the team's long-time radio play-by-play announcer Jerry Howarth announced that he would be retiring from his duties. As with Halladay, it feels silly to try and write a post describing what Jerry has meant to me as a fan when I've already touched on that in the past.

Jerry is closer to the identity of Blue Jays baseball than anyone else on the team. He has been calling games longer than I've been alive, so me hearing a season of the team without him telling me that "Blue Jays are in flight" after they've scored their first run of the game or him proclaiming "There she goes!" after a player turns on a fastball is daunting. Hearing his soft voice through the speakers in my dad's car is perhaps the most comforting sound I know, so I am sad that he has decided to retire.

With advances in analytics and an influx of new fans in recent years, Jerry got a bit of a raw deal with fans who thought he was too much of an old man and weren't cognisant of how much his history means to the team. While some others started to turn on him because of his enthusiasm for back-up shortstops, I thought that this was a step too far. I liked that even though I was part of a new generation of WAR-obsessed baseball fans, I had something which tied me to baseball fans past.

But regardless of what these three giants of Toronto baseball meant to me, the machine that is the team powers ahead without them. A new, different identity for the Blue Jays is already beginning to form, even though it may take me a couple of months to recognize it.

Friday, February 9, 2018

I'll Put It in a Place We Can Both Forget

A collection of random thoughts for you on a Friday afternoon.

I cannot tell you why, but today I started thinking a lot about the movie Donnie Darko. Rebecca and I were discussing it recently and we both agreed that it falls into the category of "Movies That People in Your First Year Dorm Like to Prove That They Are 'Deep'". I still stand by that, I guess. I was introduced to the movie by my brother, who fell in love with it while he was in university and it was released, so much so that his email at the time was "mikeydarko". I was only about 12 or 13 at the time and hadn't been exposed to "thriller" or "philosophical", or even "indie", movies yet, so  Donnie Darko seemed like this crazy distinctive thing to me. Upon revisiting it years later, I was a little bummed to find that the movie didn't quite live up the version that I had kept in my mind all those years. But still, while it's not a perfect movie by any means, it will still always live in a nice, little nostalgic corner of my mind for what it meant to me at one time. Plus, the imagery of Donnie with Frank the Rabbit is great and the soundtrack bangs.

Everyone knows the Jules and Andrews version of "Mad World" from the movie. Have you heard the Makeshift Heroes version? It's wonderful.

I am a huge fan of Pete Holmes' podcast You Made It Weird. Pete's empathetic and a gifted conversationalist who's adept at being as silly as possible and asking the most personal and deep questions possible at the same time. It's an interesting mix, but I like it. Holmes has an autobiographical show Crashing on HBO that is currently airing its second season. I'm a fan of the show and heartily recommend it, if only for the subtle Christian jokes.

I haven't run into a 2018 record that's turned my world upside down yet. I did listen to Teenage Fanclub Bandwagonesque for the first time today though, and that was just wonderful.

I'm inching towards starting demos for songs I've been working on. They make a lot of sense in my head, but I haven't translated that into any sort of physical form yet. To tide my legions of devoted fans, I've made a playlist on Spotify that is inspiring my approach to them. I love Spotify now, apparently. Check it.

Another key influence: Gated reverb and the drumfill on "Calling in the Air Tonight".

Editor's note: While titling post, I started listening to the above playlist and ended up writing and re-writing three different lines from "Deeper". What a song!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Asked for Nothing and I Got It in Spades

I've felt unmotivated in my personal pursuits lately and have found any writing to be a huge chore to get through. I feel like it's in part due to me having finished my zine and printed it; my subconscious response to that is been to relax and not do anything because I've accomplished something. It's one of my worst tendencies. I was also so caught up in grant and PhD applications that they were the only thing I thought about when I was outside of work (or at work, for that matter). Since I'm done those now, I feel weird and unfocused. Instead of having a big, tangible goal to work towards, I have vaguer ones like "work on this story" or "work on songs". They're less urgent, so I feel less inclined to work on them and then my interest and skill in writing starts to nosedive.

Even though I got a few things out this month, I'm still feeling guilty about not devoting more time to writing in my spare time. That's good, because that nervousness is often the first step towards getting goals done. Today I was hoping to knock out a self-reflective post in which I could dig into some feelings I've been having, but nothing was coming to me, so instead I'm digging up a draft I have saved to see where an old idea gets me.

One such draft was me reminding myself to reflect on my love of the baseball player Vladimir Guerrero on the occasion that he was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. This happened last week, so I suppose I should indulge myself.

Fuckin' Vladdy

As a child, I felt significantly more pride about being Canadian than I do now. This Canadian Pride was enough for me to place an emotional interest in the Montréal Expos, simply because they were one of two Canadian teams in Major League Baseball, and the only team in the National League. Sadly though, my ascent as a ballfan coincided with the demise of Montréal's franchise. While it's debatable if the Expos ever truly experienced "good times", the last breathe of the team was especially sad.

In hindsight, the minor differences between being a baseball fan and a hockey fan in Toronto were funny. To Leafs fans, the Montréal Canadiens were and still are anathema, due to the long rivalry between the two teams. Blue Jays fans, at least more of them, instead felt a kinship with Montréal's oft-ignored baseball team. They were perpetual underdogs constantly fighting against the league and their own ownership. Of all the teams in the league, they were dealt the worst hand. You have to appreciate resilience and the later-year Montréal Expos displayed a tremendous amount of resilience in small batches.

Former Expos and then Marlins owner Jeff Loria is well-known among baseball fans for being a piece of shit. The Expos produced a seemingly endless parade of exciting players (Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Randy Johnson, Tim Raines, Pedro Martinez, and now Vlad in the Hall of Fame, Larry Walker maybe on his way) and the only thing that kept up with that was the rate at which they sold them to other teams. The one year it looked like Montréal would finally put it all together and maybe win a World Series was also the last time baseball experienced a work stoppage, 1994.

Of all the Expos, the most exciting was by far their right fielder Vladimir Guerrero. He is a Dominican player who at the time was tall and thin, but still muscular, while having impossibly long legs. People like to apply labels like "unconventional" to athletes all the time, but Vlad really was unlike anyone else. He was a giant presence in the batter's box and never wore batting gloves. He hit a shitload of home runs and was one of the most fearsome power hitters of the era, but also swung at everything he saw. People love the image of him hitting a single after the pitch bounced, but I think more impressive is him being able to hit a pitch a foot off the plate in two directions out of the park. Early in his career he was speedy and stole 40 bases in a season, while also having a fucking hose.

It was hard to not like him and as a young boy he quickly became one of my favourite players in the league, Jays included. Every amazing play felt like a slap to Bud Selig's face. The bullshit announce team on the below video exemplifies that.

Forever etched into my mind, but for some reason impossible to find on the internet, is call of a Vladdy home run by the home town Montréal announcers in which one yells "VLADIMIIIIIR! VLADIMIIIIIR!" in a Québécois accent while he circled the bases in his typical gangly style. I thought it was one of the coolest things I had ever seen. 

Towards the end, things for the Expos got especially bad, with the cherry being them playing "home games" in Puerto Rico as an experiment. There were always whispers about how much longer the team would last and Montréal tried its best to support and save the team behind decent 2002 and 2003 teams. Most exciting to me was when they traded for a svelte, in-his-prime Bartolo Colon and made brief noise in the Wild Card race. I think that I wanted Montréal to get a revenge World Series more than a Blue Jays one.

When Major League Baseball announced that Montréal would be moving to Washington DC after the 2004 season, my family made a trip to the city that summer to catch a game at Olympic Stadium before that would be impossible. We spent a couple of days in the city and went to the game on the middle night of our stay. I believe this is the boxscore from that game. Somehow, we had chosen the one game that Vlad had an off-day. I was crushed that I wouldn't get to see him play. I eventually saw him many times as a member of the Los Angeles Angels, Texas Rangers, and Baltimore Orioles (sadly never as a Blue Jay, though I BADLY wanted them to call him up from the minors), but it never scratched the Expo itch that I had while younger. The game was exciting, our seats were close, and the small, but devoted, Montréal crowd was loud and engaged. By the end of the game, the city had won me over, and the memory of fans around me yelling at the field in heavy, throaty French will forever be my memory of what Expos baseball was. I'm fortunate to have that.

Something I like to do is look back on the things I liked a child and draw connections between them and myself now. As a preteen boy I only understood Vlad and the last stand of the Expos as "cool", but now as an adult I like to think that my fascination in them was part of a larger pattern of fighting against power and hating authority. The reason that everyone loves an underdog is because the overdog fucking sucks. Now the Expos are the Nationals now and that team is in the midst of a run of success, but I don't think any ballfans in Montréal take solace in that. I also don't think it will be the same as it was if a baseball team ever does come back to Montréal.

This all being said, the Expos are forever. I'll always hold a place in my heart for the team stuck around as long as they could against seemingly impossible odds and how inspiring I found that. A hearty congratulations to one of my very favourite players ever, Vladimir Guerrero, for making the Hall of Fame. I don't care what cap is on your plaque Vlad, you're an Expo for life.