Maxwell Kates: Guaranteed Win Day

 

 

Maxwell Kates

 

Thank you, Maxwell Kates for another fine writing contribution to The Pecan Park Eagle.

January 28, 2018 ~ Bill McCurdy, Publisher and Editor

 

GUARANTEED WIN DAY

By Maxwell Kates

The date was May 28, 1994. The Montreal Expos were entertaining the visiting Colorado Rockies at Olympic Stadium. As we often did on a Saturday morning, my father and I drove from our home in Ottawa to Montreal to watch the game. A young Pedro Martinez was the starting pitcher for the Expos while free agent signing Marvin Freeman received the assignment for the Rockies. The Expos drew first blood in the bottom of the 2nd inning when Larry Walker scored on a fielder’s choice. Colorado tied the game in the top of the 3rd when Freeman scored on a sacrifice fly. However, it was in the middle of the 3rd that the crowd of 30,452 received an important announcement from the public address announcer.

“Mesdames et messieurs, ladies and gentlemen, today is Guaranteed Win Day. We guarantee the Expos will win today and if they don’t, everyone is entitled to one free ticket for an Expos home game between now and June 15.”

 

1994 Montreal Expos

 

For the first time in my life, I really wanted the Expos to lose.

Marvin Freeman, a gentle giant from Chicago, was enjoying the season of his career. He entered the game with a record of 4-1 and would end the truncated 1994 season 10-2. Guaranteed Win Day, however, was the one imperfection to his signature season. ‘Free,’ as his teammates called him, admitted years later that he was rattled by the Guaranteed Win Day announcement. He unintentionally beaned Mike Lansing in the bottom of the 5th and surrendered a home run to Cliff Floyd to lead off the 7th. Colorado tied the game at 2 apiece when Mike Kingery scored on an 8th inning force out. Ultimately the game went into extra innings. Dante Bichette proved to be the go-ahead run when he scored on a 10th inning Joe Girardi single. No Montreal player scored in the bottom half of the inning. The final score, Colorado 3, Montreal 2. Bruce Ruffin was the winning pitcher, Tim Scott took the loss, Marvin Freeman phoned Mike Lansing in the hospital to check on his health, and 30,000 Expos fans had free tickets to another game.

 

Marvin Freeman

 

My father and I looked at the schedule when we returned home. The Houston Astros were in town from June 6 to June 8, while the Pirates flew in from Pittsburgh to play from June 13 to June 15. Since Houston was the better team in 1994, they were my preference for the free game. My father suggested June 8, a Wednesday, as he had a day off work. Although he encouraged my interest in baseball, he made absolutely sure that my education came before everything else. My sophomore year at Lisgar Collegiate Institute was winding down. In those years, if students perpetuated an average of 70% or better in every semester, they were exempt from writing the final examination. My father said “Get exempt from all your exams and we’ll go to see Houston. No exemptions, no Houston.”

I was enrolled in eight courses that year and by June 7, I learned that I had been exempt from seven of them. The outstanding class was French, taught by Bill Melanson. As a teacher, Mr. Melanson was as tough as nails. On the first day in September, he circulated a leaflet containing a list of rules and principles to abide by in his class. For example, speaking English was strictly verboten. We were also advised to expect our grade to fall ten points from the prior year. Tall, stern, and sporting a Bubba Smith moustache, Mr. Melanson had no tolerance for nonsense from his students. Cerebral fortitute ran in his family; his cousin was Roland Melanson of the Moncton, New Brunswick Melansons. ‘Rollie the Goalie’ played in nets for the New York Islanders and other National Hockey League teams in the 1980s.

 

Bill Melanson’s reputation for running a tight ship as a high school French teacher was both legendary and apparently genetic. Cousin Rollie Melanson (above) was wound the same way for years as a goaltender and coach in the NHL.

 

Mr. Melanson was strict but fair and teachers like him were the ones I respected the most. He wanted his students to succeed while instilling in them the value of a final grade. It was possible to get an A but you had to earn it. Consequently, I probably worked harder for Mr. Melanson than any of my other teachers that year. His students learned not only French grammar and literature, but also about the importance of hard work, discipline, and perseverance. My parents still remember the time I dragged myself to school with the flu in order to write one of his midterms.

A native of Almonte, Ontario, Mr. Melanson was a sports fan – hockey and football as well as baseball – and he often brought humour into the class. To teach us pronouns, he used one exercise about a game between “le club Canadien de Montréal” and “les Orioles de Baltimore.” Note that the exercise did not specify which sport they were playing. It would not be a stretch to suggest that after 32 years of teaching French, alumni of Mr. Melanson’s, while visiting Paris, were equipped with the confidence to navigate the City of Lights conversing entirely in French.

Going back to June 7, in my mind, I was on my way to Montreal the following day to watch the Expos play the Astros. Not so fast, Roll N Roaster! The last class of the day was French. Mr. Melanson announced that the following day – the last of the Astros road trip to Montreal – he was assigning us an oral examination. We had not received our exemptions yet and attendance was mandatory. Only after he graded the oral exams would he decide to whom an exemption from the written component was granted. Knowing my father, he would want to leave Ottawa early enough in the afternoon in order to avoid prohibitive rush hour traffic on Metropolitan Boulevard, the main freeway in Montreal. For a few minutes, at least, it appeared as though our free Expos tickets would have gone to waste.

 

1994 Houston Astros

 

Then I devised a plan. I explained to Mr. Melanson that I had an appointment at 3:00 pm the following day and asked if I could conduct the oral exam at alternate time. He assured me not to worry, as my grades were strong enough to warrant the coveted exemption. For a 16 year old kid who loved baseball, that was the best news one could hope for. It never occurred to me, however, that the game might be…televised.

My instructions were to meet my father at the turning circle outside Lisgar at 2:35 pm on Wednesday. From there we would drive directly to Olympic Stadium in Montreal. We were 123 miles from our destination with a full tank of gas. Traffic was uncharacteristically light that we even arrived early. In midst of his MVP campaign, Jeff Bagwell signed autographs for anyone who wanted after taking batting practice. Bagwell signed for me and so did Mike Felder and Steve Henderson. ‘Super Steve,’ a Houston native who ended a twelve year playing career with the Astros in 1988, was now their batting coach.

 

Super Steve Henderson

 

As the game was about to begin, we took our seats. They announced Jeff Fassero and Brian Williams as the starting pitchers for the Expos and Astros, respectively. That’s when I said “Uh-oh.”

“What’s the matter?” asked my father.

“The French CBC [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation] camera is aimed directly at us. Melanson is an Expos fan and he’s probably watching the game. I told him that I had an appointment in order to skip his class and now he’s going to see that I’m here. It’s the only time I’ve ever skipped.”

My father does speak the most bowdlerized English so I won’t repeat the exact words he used. The message was to forget it – we were at a baseball game. Still, if there was any teacher who I did not want to disappoint, it was Mr. Melanson.

 

Jeff Bagwell, Craig Biggio, Ken Caminiti

 

Much like the Colorado Rockies game of a few weeks before, the Expos were the first to score this evening as well. After Marquis Grissom grounded out to lead off the bottom of the 3rd inning, Moises Alou and Larry Walker each hit a couple of singles. A Darrin Fletcher single, followed by a Cliff Floyd double, scored Alou and Walker to put the Expos ahead 2-0. In the top of the 4th, Jeff Bagwell and Ken Caminiti each hit solo home runs to tie the score. No runs scored in the 5th inning, but Jeff Fassero loaded the bases with walks to open the top of the 6th inning. Brian Williams singled to left to score Craig Biggio and Ken Caminiti; the score was now 4-2 for the Astros.

In the top of the 7th inning, Steve Finley and Craig Biggio reached base on singles before Jeff Bagwell hit a three run homer. With the score now 7-2 for the Astros, my dad said “Let’s go.” Since I didn’t quite have my driver’s license yet, I chose to agree with him. Houston added two more runners in the top of the 9th to make the final score 9-2.

 

Astros vs. Expos

 

The next day, Thursday afternoon, I went to French class, not sure how Mr. Melanson would react. If he knew that I had skipped his class in order to attend a baseball game, he might have thrown away my exemption and given me a zero on the oral component. Towards the beginning of class, Mr. Melanson looked in my direction and winked before returning to his lesson. At the end of the day, he wanted to speak to me.

“I know where you were last night,” insisted Mr. Melanson. “Don’t worry about it. You worked hard all year and you succeeded. And I would have done the same.”

I asked to be enrolled in French classes with Mr. Melanson each of the next two years.

 

William Melanson

 

In memory of William C. Melanson, who passed away January 20, 2018.

 

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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6 Responses to “Maxwell Kates: Guaranteed Win Day”

  1. Brian Beebe Says:

    I so enjoyed your story, as usual. We are the stories we tell. Merci mon ami

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    Mr. Kates,

    I thoroughly enjoyed Guaranteed Win Day. I grew up a Houston Colt .45s/Astros fan and currently live in Denver where I root for the Colorado Rockies, so your story was especially poignant for me. As an added bonus, the piece included a program photo of one of my all-time favorite Houston players, Roger Metzger.

    What a tragedy for Montreal fans in the 1994 season cut short by a strike when the Expos had the best record in baseball.

    I thought you did a brilliant job of first recounting the story about your beloved teacher, Mr. Melanson, and then only in the last sentence revealing that he had recently passed away. Excellent craftsmanship. I’m sure he would be proud.

  3. bhick6 Says:

    Well done, Maxwell.

    Bill Hickman

  4. maxwell1901 Says:

    Merci Brian, Tom, et Guillaume (and to the other Guillaume for publishing the article)..

    My standard joke about Roger is that he was hardly a “metzger” in the infield. Perhaps I should have studied German instead.

    In all seriousness, looking back, the best teachers we had were the ones who wanted their students to succeed. Accordingly, they instilled values to maintain a proper work ethic and attitude. The lessons learned often extend far beyond the academic curriculum in the course outline.

    We often don’t know who those teachers are until years after the fact. In a sad irony, it was while reading my alumni newsletter last Saturday that I realized it was Bill Melanson. Little did I know at the time, Mr. Melanson had already passed away.

  5. shinerbock80 Says:

    Une histoire formidable, Maxwell. Les Expos etaient toujours un favori.

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