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Expos star Tim Raines celebrated at sports breakfast

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Former Montreal Expos star Tim Raines, centre left, is given an award by, from left, Mitch Melnick, Cookie Lazarus and Rodger Brulotte, at the 14th annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast in Montreal. (Amir El Etr photo)

Former Montreal Expos left fielder Tim Raines admits that he didn’t even know what the Expos were when he was drafted by the team in 1977.

“I thought I’d be drafted by the Dodgers in the first round, but they picked someone else,” he said. “Then, in the fifth round, the Expos chose me. Little did I know that it would lead to the Hall of Fame.”

Raines, who was inducted as an Expo into the Baseball Hall of Fame last year, was greeted like a hometown hero at the 14th annual Sports Celebrity Breakfast, which benefitted the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation and was attended by a sell-out crowd of over 500.

Raines, who spent 13 seasons with the Expos, was presented with the event’s Expos Baseball Legends Award.

READ: JERUSALEM’S ‘SPORTS RABBI’ WINS TRIP TO MONTREAL TO SEE CANADIENS GAME

Raines is best remembered for his hitting prowess and speed, which enabled him to steal 808 bases over his 23-year career.

Now 58, he remembers the enthusiastic Montreal fans of those years fondly and never hesitated about representing the late, lamented team in the Hall of Fame, even though he went on to play for the Chicago White Sox and the New York Yankees.

Raines said he learned a lot about playing hard every game and winning over the crowd from older players like Andre Dawson and the late Gary Carter. It took a little time, but “when they found out I could run bases, the fans went nuts,” he said.

Raines believes Major League Baseball could return to the city one day. “It might take a few more years, but I think it will be back. If there’s any chance for me to be a part of it, I’m damn sure I will,” he said.

Tim Raines playing for the Chicago White Sox in 1995. (clare_and_ben/flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0)

The event reunited Raines with a couple of other players from the Expos’ golden era: David Palmer and Bill Lee. And a moment of silence was observed for another great, Rusty Staub, who is having health problems.

The breakfast raised over $335,000 for seniors living below the poverty line (a situation faced by one in five seniors in the Jewish community).

The Sports Personalities of the Year award was shared by brothers Jean-Philippe Darche and Mathieu Darche. They were hailed for their exemplary achievements in professional sports and academia. Both McGill University graduates, Jean-Philippe Darche played in the NFL while studying medicine, and the younger Darche skated in the NHL, including a stint with the Canadiens, and after retirement put his business education to use, becoming an executive with Delmar customs brokers (a gig he got by network at one of these breakfasts). Jean-Philippe is now a doctor who works with his former team, the Kansas City Chiefs.

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, another Quebecer at the breakfast who is currently a lineman for the Chiefs, will graduate with a degree in medicine this spring and wants “M.D.” added to his jersey to set an example for youngsters who think they have to choose between professional sports and higher education.

Mathieu Darche playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2007. (Wknight94/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

The guest of honour was lawyer and businessman Morden (Cookie) Lazarus, who has been the agent of many professional athletes, dating back to the early 1970s. He’s been a key figure in the breakfast’s ability to attract sports personalities, past and present, over the past 11 years.

Among those paying tribute to him in a video were former Expo Warren Cromartie, ex-wrestler Johnny Rougeau, impresario Donald K. Donald and retired boxer Otis Grant, who was present. The two-time North American Boxing Federation middleweight champion recalled that it was Lazarus who gave his mother her first job here when the family immigrated from Jamaica.

NHL Players Association executive director Donald Fehr, who was also present, has known Lazarus for 40 years and described him as having “a velvet exterior that conceals a spine of steel,” while former online gaming executive Mitch Garber called him “my godfather, my mentor.”

Veteran sportscaster Mitch Melnick, host of a show on TSN 690, was given the Larry Fredericks Media Award, which was named for the late sportswriter and radio broadcaster who died 2012. He was the father of breakfast organizer Mike Cohen, who shared the MCing with sports announcer Charles-André Marchand.

Among the other sports figures present were: Montreal Alouette Tyrell Sutton; former Montreal Impact player Lloyd Barker; Lizanne Murphy, who was on the 2012 Olympics basketball team and played professionally in France; and hockey agent Allan Walsh, a native of Chomedey, Que., who now lives in L.A.