To any Nationals fan who thought Washington's nabbing of a big-league baseball team was a victimless crime: Meet Herb Pearo. He's got a shrine he'd like to sell.
Pearo, 53, has one of the world's largest collections of memorabilia of the Nationals' former incarnation, the Montreal Expos. There are uniforms that he dug out of a dumpster in Florida, batting helmets that an equipment manager sold him to pay off gambling debts, and a bunch of jerseys that another collector traded him in exchange for a Ford van.
It's all displayed in a two-story "Expos Room" at Pearo's house in a remote corner of Vermont -- the results of an obsession lasting more than half a lifetime.
And, now that the team has moved to Washington and left Pearo bereft, it's all going on the market.
"It's time to move on," Pearo said sitting on his porch near a bullpen bench that he spirited out of the Expos' old ballpark in 1976. "The Expos have moved on."
Pearo is part of a forgotten baseball subculture that took root in Upstate New York and parts of northern New England after the Expos were created in 1969. Whether because of geography -- Montreal is hundreds of miles closer than big-league stadiums in Boston and New York -- or a simple love of the underdog, some fans adopted the new Canadian team.
For those Americans who did, it was a long, strange ride.
Across the border, they found a place where concession stands served a mixture of french fries, gravy and cheese curds called poutine, and where the mascot was Youppi!, a furry orange Muppet. Their team had a logo that looked like a red, white and blue worm, and a stadium with a roof that resembled the underside of a mattress.
"Everything about it was just weird," said Tom Simon, a lawyer who adopted the Expos when he moved to Burlington in 1993.
Pearo, a Vermont native, loved the Montreal stadium, contrasting its party atmosphere with the surly air of Boston's ballpark. "It was like a happy, sober Fenway Park," he said.
Over the years, the Expos' fortunes rose and then mostly fell, as great players developed in their minor-league system began departing for teams that could pay them more. Montreal's team never made it to a World Series.
But Pearo, who makes money buying and selling antiques and sports memorabilia, stayed with them.
He began a concerted effort to gather Expos gear, pursuing relics of the team's players -- many of whom would be lucky to get historical-footnote status -- as if they were Hall of Famers. That included his spring-training dumpster diving, which might yield uniforms the team was throwing out, and his longtime relationship with an Expos equipment manager who would call up and offer to sell truckloads of used equipment.
" 'Bad day at the racetrack,' " Pearo remembered the man saying. " 'Come on up, I've got something for you.' "
One such transaction left Pearo with one of his most unusual treasures: long underwear owned by Steve Rogers, an Expos pitcher from 1973 to 1985.
"They're autographed," he said.
He's also quite proud of a bat used by John Boccabella, a backup catcher on the original 1969 Expos. This was a rare find, Pearo said, because bats are usually discarded only after being broken, and the weak-hitting Boccabella didn't usually swing hard enough to make that happen.
"I think I had to sell the wheels off a car" to pay for that bat, Pearo said.
At his home near the shore of Lake Champlain, just two minutes from the Canadian border, Pearo converted an indoor basketball court to hold his hundreds of items by adding imitation baseball lockers and a two-story wall of bats.
In the space of a loft apartment, his Expos Room dwarfs the Expos collection at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., which has seen fit to keep only about 95 items related to the team. Pearo didn't want the exact location of his house reported for fear that burglars would be attracted by the collection.
Among the displays are bobble-head dolls and rosin bags, warm-up jackets and old advertisements; items including the first bat ever used by an Expos hitter and the shoes worn by former Expos manager Frank Robinson -- who now skippers the Nationals -- during the team's final game last season.
The end: Unfortunately, that's where this is going. The Expos were eventually done in by declining attendance and revenue, for which Pearo blames fair-weather fans in Quebec. He says he was pleased, for reasons of spite, when their beloved National Hockey League season was cancelled last year.
This year will bring another symbolic blow, as the minor-league Vermont Expos, whom the Nationals inherited, also plan to change their name. Fan suggestions here have included the Green Mountain Boys, the Howlin' Howards -- after former Vermont governor and erstwhile presidential candidate Howard Dean -- and several variations involving maple sugar.
Now, Pearo said, he would like to sell the collection to somebody in Washington -- lock, stock and bobble-head. He would like to see it put on display, but he's a little doubtful, having heard from a friend in the D.C. area that Nationals fans aren't interested in the team's past.
"I guess they feel like it's a brand-new baby," he said. "And not an adopted child."