- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 4, 2002

Mike Toomey is a Washington area native currently working on the road for a Montreal-based company. At 50, he isnt getting any younger than the rest of us — so hed like to return home.

And bring that company with him.

Toomey, who grew up in Hyattsville and now lives (occasionally, anyway) in Gaithersburg, is sort of a super scout for the apparently doomed Montreal Expos. Officially, his title is "national cross-checker." That means he travels hither, thither and mostly yon slapping his seal of approval or disdain on major and minor league players the Expos might be interested in.

Scouting is a thankless job under any circumstances, so imagine how tough it can be when your organization might disappear before the first snow flies. Normally, a guy in this position might say something like, "Im just thinking about today and letting the future take care of itself."

Except that Toomey thinks about the future all the time.

He thinks about how terrific it would be to work and watch his team play in his hometown.

"A move to D.C, would be great for the Washington area," he said recently over breakfast in a Rockville restaurant. "Its an international city, and weve got international stars like Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Vidro and Masato Yoshii. It would be a wonderful fit. Besides, were only a couple players away from being a real solid club."

Wonderful to be sure, after 31 seasons with the national pastime only a memory in the nations capital. But Toomey also is a realist. Scouting is not an occupation for those who live through dreams.

"Im not that optimistic about [getting the Expos or any other team] next season — say Im cautiously optimistic," he insisted. "But Im also frustrated because there has been no movement. First, the Expos have just pulled all eight [regular] scouts off the road [for financial reasons]. Second, it looks like a strike is imminent. But you know, having a team here would be the best of both worlds for the fans — the National League in D.C., the American League in Baltimore.

"Three decades without a team in Washington — unbelievable. I feel cheated, I really do. After all, to be a scout, you also have to be a fan."

And as every fan should know, the Expos are being run this season by Major League Baseball after owner Jeffrey Loria ditched them to buy the equally insecure Florida Marlins. When the season is over, they could be sold to one of three Washington groups seeking a club: Bill Collins Virginia Baseball, Fred Maleks D.C. investors or the fledgling gang headed by Dan Snyder and TV mogul Robert Johnson.

A more likely scenario, unfortunately, is that MLB commissioner Bud Selig will implement his plan to contract the Expos and one other club, letting legal challenges fall where they may. This assumes that there will be baseball in 2003 — and enough fans to support it — if the players strike next month, as now seems likely.

Meanwhile, Toomey and other Expos employees keep plugging their way through limbo. Mike was the first scout hired by the club after MLB took it over this spring, and working for a new boss — in this case, Expos general manager Omar Minaya —is nothing new. Since 1982, when he turned to full-time scouting after playing and coaching at George Washington University, Toomey has collected paychecks from six other clubs.

And never has the future been so uncertain.

Scouts are often called the "lifeblood" of baseball, which doesnt explain why they are among its least compensated people. There are no fat free-agent contracts, nor even a pension plan for guys who sometimes sacrifice their lives and families to pursue the next Mickey Mantle or Barry Bonds. And hoo boy, the travel. After being hired by the Expos in February, Toomey spent four days at home over the next four months while visiting 45 states. "I cant tell you how many times I woke up at 2 a.m. and wondered, 'What town am I in?" he told ESPNs Tim Kurkjian.

Is Toomey dedicated?

Can Barry Bonds drive a baseball?

"Tooms is insane," said Lee MacPhail IV, the Expos director of pro scouting.

Now all Toomey can do is wait, just as fans in the Washington have done for these 31 years. Will there be a team here in 03 04 ever?

Your guess is as good as his.

"If the Expos do come to Washington, Id be ecstatic," he said, allowing a smidgen of whimsy to take flight. "Id do so many camps and clinics to stimulate interest. Id."

Pray a little?

Maybe, maybe not.

"If I go on scouting, fine; if I dont, fine. If I dont have a job, Ill run my baseball academy in Germantown, do substitute teaching at Richard Montgomery High School and sit back in my recliner and watch the major league baseballcq [TV] package. Thats all I need to be perfectly happy. My life will go on, even without baseball."

Perhaps thats the best way for us to regard this most American of sports in the latest summer of our discontent — fatalistically. But still, theres that dream.

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