Every Monday a Sun staffer gets to know a local sports figure a little closer in Up Close. This week, Ken Wiebe chats with Winnipeg Goldeyes shortstop Max Poulin, who is into his eighth Northern League baseball season.
The Sun: Is it hard to believe it's been so long since you packed up the car and drove from Quebec to Winnipeg for the open tryout back in 2001?
MP: It's been eight years. It's funny because I was driving on Portage Ave. the other day and I saw the first hotel that I stayed in. We drove forever that night and tried to find a cheap hotel because we didn't have barely any money. It seems like it was yesterday.
The Sun: What did you know about Winnipeg before you came here?
MP: Nothing. I went on the internet, saw the tryout. I didn't even know they had a big French community. I just knew they had a baseball team and that I maybe had a chance to go and play, that's about it. I remember calling Hal Lanier in 1999, but he said they had a shortstop already.
The Sun: What is it like to see how you've evolved from a walk-on to a fan favourite?
MP: You know, in everything you do in life, you want to be successful. It's been a great accomplishment. I really enjoy playing here. This is probably the best place to play baseball. I'm having fun doing it and if I can do it for another five years, I will.
The Sun: As a kid from Quebec, which NHL team did you cheer for, the Quebec Nordiques or Montreal Canadiens?
MP: I cheered for the Nordiques when I was younger, then I switched to the Habs.
The Sun: But is that allowed?
MP: I don't think so. But I always liked both teams. I wasn't a die-hard for either one.
The Sun: You still skate now, but how long did you play organized hockey?
MP: Oh yeah, I played hockey until I was 16 years old. After that, I focused on playing baseball. I regret it sometimes because I really like hockey. I still skate now in the wintertime. It's a good workout and I really enjoy it.
The Sun: When it comes to baseball, were you always a fan of the Montreal Expos?
MP: Oh yeah, Andre Dawson and Gary Carter were my favourite players growing up. And I met Andre Dawson at the Northern League All-star game in 2004.
The Sun: What was that like?
MP: I went to the last game that Gary Carter played in Montreal and he hit a double into right field. It was a line drive and it just seemed like Dawson let it go to give him a hit because they were good friends. I always wanted to ask (Dawson) about that. In the dugout I got the chance to ask him and he said 'No, no, it was a real double.' That was kind of cool.
The Sun: What was it like for you when the Expos left Montreal to become the Washington Nationals?
MP: It was pretty sad. Baseball is big in Quebec, there's a lot of junior teams and a lot of kids growing up who play baseball. For myself, I lived 45 minutes away from Olympic Stadium and we were going to 20 or 30 games every year. You grow up and dream of playing for the Expos one day. It's never a good thing when a team like that leaves the city. It makes it harder for the kids to dream about playing professional baseball.
The Sun: Do you think the Expos would have won the World Series in 1994 if Major League Baseball didn't have a strike?
MP: I remember being there and watching a game against the Phillies. There were 54,000 people at Olympic Stadium. They had a great team, John Wetteland, Larry Walker, Delino Deshields, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou. The strike is probably what killed the Expos. They had everything set up and ready to go to build a new stadium. It's a shame.
The Sun: I know you've spent part of the winters here in Winnipeg before, how did you manage in your first full winter?
MP: Yeah, it was my first winter here and probably my last one. I don't know, it's a little too cold for me and it's not just the cold. I'm a big skier and snow-boarder. I like to be outside and play hockey outside. We'll see what happens.
The Sun: We know you're a big hockey fan, who is going to win the Stanley Cup and why?
MP: I think it's going to be the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a young team and they're hungry. I think they're going to do it.
The Sun: Who was your favourite hockey player when you were growing up?
MP: Patrick Roy, for sure and I'm a big fan of Alexei Kovalev.
The Sun: Did you play hockey with anybody who made it to the NHL?
MP: Not quite, but I played with Benoit Gratton (long-time AHLer who plays in Europe) a little bit. I think we were 12-years-old.
The Sun: Some people in Winnipeg continued to cheer for the Phoenix Coyotes after the Jets left, do you root for the Nationals?
MP: When I think about the Nationals, I think about the Nationals, I don't think about the Expos. It doesn't feel like the Nationals are part of the Expos.