Ex-Pro Tries to Fill Expos’ Void

Yankee Catcher Returns to Teach Montreal Kids

Photos by Amanda Laprade

On Sept. 29, 2004, the Montreal Expos lost 9-1 at home to the Florida Marlins.

It’s been seven years and three months since the last pro baseball game was played in this city, but the sport received a shot in the arm recently thanks to some homegrown talent.

On Friday, the Montreal Canadiens’ practice facility in Brossard was taken over by baseball pros and aspiring major-leaguers, as around 160 kids lined the halls of the Bell Sports Complex to learn tips from New York Yankees catcher Russell Martin, who played high school baseball growing up in Montreal.

The event was part of a camp hosted by Baseball Empire, a series of baseball camps directed at every type of player, which intends to aid players aged 7 to 16.

“This is the beginning of something big that may come in the near future,” said Josué Peley, one of the camp’s instructors, who also plays for High-A Salem, the farm team for Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox.

The event—founded by Ivan Naccarata, formerly of the Canadian-American Association of Professional Baseball League’s Quebec Capitals—is meant to bring back to baseball’s popularity in Montreal after Expos’ departure.

“Baseball Empire is there to make sure the sport doesn’t die,” said Naccarata. He came up with the idea for doing a camp like this wondering what to do with his passion for coaching during a slow off-season.

“Whenever you’re playing professional baseball, there’s a period when you’re not playing, and sometimes you have to find jobs,” said Naccarata. “During the off-season I’ll be able to create work for these guys right here,” he said, referring to Quebec stars Jonathan Malo and Jean-Luc Blaquière of the New York Mets affiliate AA Binghamton, as well as Peley and other pros.

Naccarata happens to be good friends with ex-Concordia Stinger baseball player Vincent White and he called him up while planning the camp with Martin—the de facto star of the camp.

“We just thought it would be a fun thing to do, to use a bit of my popularity, get some kids together, and teach them some of my knowledge,” said Martin.

For last Friday at least, they got the spark they were looking for, as the camp sold out all of its spots. This is something that White, now communications manager of Baseball Empire, is ecstatic about.

“We got a huge turnout and we’re very happy about it,” said White, who explained the whole point of this camp is to give back to baseball’s youth in Quebec.

One of the campers, Anthony Alluisi, 14, hopes to bolster his baseball skills after attending the event.

“I hope that I’m going to perform and learn something from Martin. [He’s] one of my favorite players,” said Alluisi. Taking on this camp is something that also pleased his mother, Nancy Crnich. “I think this is a good idea, to apply to this camp, because taking on sports is a good way to stay active,” she said.

Thanks to the camp’s success, White hopes more events of its kind will follow.

“The whole idea of Baseball Empire is to give a series of camps. We hope to have some in the summertime, and definitely some in the fall and the winter of next year.”

For now, they’ll have to enjoy the success of this camp that seemed to bring out every young baseball fan in town.