I’ll be meeting with Boynton Beach’s Felipe Alou this week for a column on his new book, “Alou: My Baseball Journey,” and a celebration of his long ties to Palm Beach County.
As an appetizer, here is something I wrote way back in 1991 about a West Palm Beach Expos team that Felipe managed to the Florida State League championship. What happened to them on the bus ride home from the title series in Clearwater is a classic tale of life in the minors.
(A column from the Sept. 11, 1991 Palm Beach Post)
By Dave George, Sports Columnist
MINOR CELEBRATIONS CAN’T DAMPEN MAJOR ACCOMPLISHMENTS
arrival of the newly crowned Florida State League champions. A police car led the West Palm Beach Expos‘ bus down Palm Beach Lakes Boulevard and into the
Municipal Stadium parking lot, the triumphant conclusion to a return trip from Clearwater and the deciding game of the league championship series.
Somewhere, a dog barked, his echo bouncing off dark buildings. Perhaps a
drifter stirred drowsily on a bus stop bench. If anyone else other than a
handful of loyal fans was aware of the Expos‘ victory parade, which lasted
from approximately 4:28 to 4:30 a.m., they could only have been on their way
to make the doughnuts.
By 5:15, most of the Expos‘ clubhouse was stripped of personal belongings, the parking lot cleared of players’ cars. Six hours earlier, these young
dreamers had been hugging and laughing and whooping it up over a league title that was 138 games in the making. The celebration, however, didn’t make it to sunrise. The real world had lurched back into action by then and the Expos had resumed their offseason lives, each group oblivious of the other.
“There are lot of West Palm Beach Expos in Alabama and Mississippi and
South Carolina right now, all of them headed home,” said Expos pitcher Doug
Bochtler, a former John I. Leonard High School star.
Rest assured that none of them are traveling by bus. Never again will they board one of those rolling bricks voluntarily.
“I guarantee you that if a major league team wins the World Series, their plane doesn’t break down on the way home like our bus did last night,”
SOME VICTORY LAP
Stranded on I-95 near Blue Heron Boulevard, the champions dealt with one
last dose of Class-A confusion. Still riding the high of the franchise’s first league title in 17 years, philosophy won out over frustration.
“When the bus kicked out, I guess it was just fate, something to keep the team together a little longer,” said Ron Colangelo, the Expos‘ radio voice.
Move over, Pops Stargell. Here is a real baseball family, playing for
minor league scraps rather than bonus playoff money. Playing like there may be no other games to play, next season or any other. For some of the
overachievers on the roster of manager Felipe Alou, there won’t be.
“A couple of the guys came by my house around noon to say goodbye on
their way out of town,” Bochtler said. “The way everybody left showed the
biggest key to us winning the whole thing. This wasn’t a traditional handshake and good luck thing. There were guys hugging and saying thanks. We all know
this could be our only chance at winning a championship.”
Bochtler never won a baseball title before, despite being good enough to
share the FSL lead in victories (12). He was 7-2 with an 0.72 ERA as a Leonard senior, but didn’t experience the team success of a district title. Same goes for his American Legion Post 47 team or Indian River Community College.
Taking the field in Clearwater Monday night, all the emotions bubbled up
at once. The Expos were playing for the league title, but they were doing so
in front of just 292 fans. Also, even though West Palm Beach was about to win it all as a wild-card playoff entry, not a single Expo name was called as FSL President Chuck Murphy announced the league all-star team before the game.
Minor slights, these were, when the team was sized for championship rings a
few hours later.
“That was the greatest feeling ever,” Bochtler said. “Even if I make it
some day to pitch in Montreal, that ring won’t come off me.”
MOM KNOWS BEST
All the rainouts and rescheduled doubleheaders should come with some
reward. The Expos have a loyal following, averaging nearly 1,800 at home games in 1991 to rank second in the league. But in the end, it’s up to the players
to find their own motivation. They won the opening game of the FSL
championship series at home before a crowd of 480. They won for themselves.
“People who don’t get involved with this team don’t know what they’re
missing,” said Louise Hiers of West Palm Beach. “These are just young kids a
long way from home, some of them for the first time.”
Louise, 65, is known as “Mom” by the Expos. She has been at almost every
home game for the last 18 seasons. Monday night she was with them in
Clearwater, and when the team arrived at Municipal Stadium early Tuesday
morning, she was there again, kissing and hugging each player as he stepped
off the bus.
Thus, Mom sent her family to the four winds. A championship team dissolved into the dawn, just like all beautiful dreams.