By Melissa Couto, special guest contributor to Cooperstowners in Canada
Tim Raines understands the importance of family.
The former Expo’s face lights up just talking about it.
Like when he was asked, for instance, if he plans on taking his two-year-old twin girls, Ava and Amelie, to Montreal to show them where he spent 13 seasons of his 23-year playing career, Raines smiled and nodded in excitement.
“Definitely,” he said, hours before being inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame along with George Bell, Rob Ducey, Nat Bailey and Tom Cheek on Saturday afternoon. “They’re a little young right now, but once they get a little older and they can understand why I want to take them there, we will definitely make that trip.”
For the 53-year-old Raines, Montreal is where the heart is.
From 1979-1990, and again in 2001, Raines played 1,452 games wearing the Expos colours. During that time he recorded 1,622 hits, including 281 doubles and 96 home runs.
With Montreal, the speedy Raines stole 635 bases of his career 808 total, a mark that’s good for fifth all time on MLB’s list. He led the league in stolen bases for four consecutive seasons from 1981-1984, including his career-best 90 steals in 1983.
But that’s not what he wants to be remembered for.
“A lot of people think I was that guy who wanted to be known for stealing a lot of bases and it wasn’t really like that,” the seven-time all-star said, addressing the crowd gathered in St. Marys upon his induction. “I stole bases to win games and that was the thing I did to help my ball club. I didn’t steal bases to get recognition.
“A stolen base doesn’t really mean much except to the individual, but that run scored means a lot to the team.”
The outfielder hung up his cleats in 2002, taking a career batting average of .294 and a .385 on-base percentage with him into retirement.
Eleven years later, Raines stood at a podium in front of a crowd of people in a small southern Ontario town, reminiscing on his career.
His family couldn’t make the trip to St. Marys due to health problems, but he thanked them for all they had done for him.
“I owe a lot of my career to my mother,” Raines said. “When I was a kid I used to see guys on television, when their face was on camera, they always said, ‘hi mom.’ Now I know what that really means.
“Sure, dad was the man, but mom was the backbone to a lot of those athletes.”
The Sanford, Fla., native went on to mention his father Ned Raines, a former semi-pro baseball player, and his two older brothers, Ned Jr., and Levi, who both played minor-league ball.
But until Tim, no Raines had made it to the major-league level.
“To me, as a kid, those guys taught me how to play the game,” Raines said. “They never made it to the major leagues but I wish they would have. My father was a great player but never got a chance to play professionally.”
So upon being drafted by the Expos in 1977, Raines made a pact with his father.
“I promised my dad I was going to make it to the majors for him,” he said.
Now he’s in the Hall of Fame — the Canadian one, at least.
Though Raines has been on the ballot for the National Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., since 2008, he’s fallen shy of the 75% tally needed for induction. This year, his sixth on the ballot, he received 52.2% of the vote.
Raines says he is honoured to be recognized in the country in which he spent most of his career, both playing and now coaching.
Hired by the Blue Jays earlier this year as a roving minor league instructor, Raines will participate in the club’s Honda Super Camp in Montreal next month. Roughly 80-to-100 kids are expected to participate, and Raines can’t wait to get back to his old stomping grounds.
“When the Blue Jays told me during spring training that there was going to be something in Montreal, I had to make sure they knew I wanted to be a part of that,” he said. “I needed that opportunity.”
Though born in Florida and currently living in Arizona, Raines says he feels more Canadian now than ever.
“The parallel of starting my career in Canada and now still working in Canada, it makes me feel like I’m Canadian,” he said before the induction ceremony. “I love this country.”
And it all comes back to family.
“I married a Canadian woman,” he said, referring to Shannon Raines of Arnprior, Ont. the sister of former Seattle Mariners minor-league RHP Tanner Watson, “My kids are half-Canadian. It’s a part of my life.”
Note from Kevin Glew: Melissa Couto is one of the most promising young talents in Canadian baseball writing. The quality of her work is consistently excellent. Please take the time to “Google” her name and you’ll come across some of the topnotch articles she has written for Canadian Press, the Toronto Sun and the Canadian Baseball Network.