Season on the road

What almost was, and maybe still could be. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

In 1992, a 22-year-old Canadian baseball player named Michel Laplante, who’d grown up in a town called Val d’Or, Quebec—maybe an eight-hour trip northwest of Quebec City (which is already pretty far north)—was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates of Major League Baseball.

From what I can tell, Laplante gave it his all. He played year after year after year in the minors—traded from the Pirates system to San Diego to Montreal to Atlanta—but he never actually made it to the major leagues.

If you look him up on Baseball-Reference.com, he didn’t hang up his cleats until 2007. Then, after he was done playing, he moved into sports administration. He’s now the president of a minor league team called Équipe Québec.

That’s how I happened to talk with him yesterday—not so much to discuss his own baseball journey, at least not at first, but instead to learn about the experience of this year’s club.

Because Équipe Québec is really a temporary consolidation of several other Canadian teams playing in the Frontier League—a league so minor that I’ll bet most readers have never heard of it.

Not only that, but Quebec started this season ready to spend the entire year on the road—nearly 100 games—due to the difficulty involved in trying to get teams back and forth across the US-Canada border during the pandemic.

Of course, this comes after last season was canceled in its entirety.

I learned their story because my wife and I like to take our daughter to a minor league game or two each year. It just so happened our local New Jersey Jackals hosted Quebec a couple of weeks ago.

I love how informal it all is, with kids playing in right field throughout the game. Me being me, I wandered down to their bullpen (in the middle of the 5th inning; sorry, I am who I am) and chatted up some of the players.

I mean: My mom grew up in Montreal; I had to say hello, right?

“Oh, how I miss it there,” one of the players told me after I explained our tenuous connection. “Greatest city in the world.” After that, they gave me a bit of insight into the joy of spending day after day doubled up in a room at the Hampton Inn or the Motel 6—not the greatest in the world.

To be clear, if you play for a Frontier League team like Quebec, you’re barely making it. The players gross maybe $1,200 or $1,500 a month. They play for one of two reasons:

  • Because they hold out hope that they might be among the lucky few who still have a long shot at the majors, or

  • Because they know this is the last dance, and they might as well enjoy it.

I walked away with a lot of respect for these guys. There’s something admirable and noble to me about keeping at it even though you know you’ll spend the whole season:

  • Playing potentially 96 games in a row without seeing home;

  • Traveling on buses from New York to as far west as Illinois and back again;

  • Staying doubled up (at least) with teammates in cheap hotels every night;

  • Playing with no home crowds, everyone cheering against you; and

  • Trying to stay fit and eat like an athlete when your choices are basically fast food, or whatever you can scrounge from the breakfast buffet.

Tough trip, right? I filed away the story, waiting for a day to write about the team.

So I was happy to hear a rumor this week that after more than two months on the road, Équipe Québec had been granted a reprieve. With the border opening up a bit, they’ll soon be able to play games in Quebec for the first time in two years.

As a result, I sent a quick email to the team yesterday, hoping to verify the report. Next thing I knew, Laplante, the affable team president, was on the phone with me from Quebec City.

We talked about the season, and how the consolidated Quebec team mostly went with younger players this year, because it was hard to convince guys with wives and families to go on a long-term road trip for such a low monthly stipend.

That made sense. But frankly, I found I really wanted to ask him the question I’d wondered from the start: Was it worth it?

Would you have spent all this time trying but barely achieving your dream, if you’d known how it would turn out in the end? The closest Laplante ever got, he said, was Triple-A, which is one step below the majors.

His answer isn’t everyone’s. But I’m glad I had the chance to hear it:

“It’s worth it to try to achieve your dream and go as far as you can ... I’m happy now. I love my life. But I’m happy when I go to sleep at night that I tried to do it.”

I may live in New Jersey, but Équipe Québec now has a fan for life. Or at least as long as they last.

Leave a comment


Trivia!

I like that we’re doing this now. This week’s questions are below—remember, all the answers can be found in the week’s newsletters.

The first person to reply to this newsletter (or email me at bill@understandably.com) with correct answers to all three gets a shout-out in Monday’s newsletter, plus a phone call or video chat.

Pitch me an idea, tell me what you’d like to see in Understandably—heck, try to stump me with your own trivia questions. Ready?

  1. Where is Black Rifle Coffee Company headquartered?

  2. What’s the lowest cost-of-living state in the USA?

  3. Prince Harry is writing a book. Who’s reported to be his ghostwriter?


7 other things

Thanks for reading. Photo credit: your humble newsletter writer. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.