For Fish fans, it was such a familiar scene: Max Poulin leaning over the dugout rail on Saturday, back at Shaw Park and back in a red jersey.
Only one thing: This time around, there wasn't a furious fish embroidered on Poulin's sleeve. Instead, the 36-year-old retired shortstop was turned out in the ruby hue of the visiting Trois-Rivi®res Aigles, the Quebec team he now serves as hitting coach.
Yeah, it's a little strange to be looking across the field at the Goldeyes, he said. He wore their uniform for eight years and was a fan fave in all eight.
"It was really hard yesterday," he said Saturday before the second game of the series. "Well, not hard, but it was more weird, being in Winnipeg and changing my routine. I used to show up at the field here at one o'clock every day. Now I came in on the bus at 4 p.m. Being in this dugout, everything is backwards. At the same time, I love being in Trois-Rivi®res and I love the team."
'It's easy for me to see when something is wrong with someone. I can tell when someone is
keeping something inside of them. You try to help everybody off the field and on the field, and I think when people feel better off the field it will show on the field'
-- Max Poulin
The Aigles are close to his heart in a way.
He hasn't gone back to Quebec much since he left in 1997 to play ball, so it's been good to go home and see the folks awhile.
"This is the first summer I'm pretty much spending near my mom and dad," Poulin said. "That was one of the main reasons I contacted (Aigles manager Pierre-Luc Laforest) first. Obviously the baseball, but also their company."
Poulin's father was in the stands Saturday, having driven out for the Aigles' interleague road swing against American Association squads.
These are familiar seats for the family. Not only did Poulin parlay his baseball dream into those eight years with the Goldeyes, he also settled in this Prairie city that embraced him so well. Indeed, he still lives in St. Vital, running a renovation biz and coaching baseball camps for kids.
But something kept pulling him back to the ballpark, so before the season started, he called Laforest on a Monday looking for work. By the next Thursday, he was meeting the Trois-Rivi®res media as the team's new hitting coach.
"It's been super fun," Poulin said. "Even when I was playing, I was thinking about being a coach. I just like teaching things and being around the guys, and I love being around the game. It's good for myself."
That last sentence is welcome news from a man who has been through so much. Last year, Poulin made headlines when he came out as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and the invisible scars it left on his life.
Today, he is a huge supporter of Canadian child-advocacy group Beyond Borders. The group "saved my life," Poulin said, and he means that earnestly -- he knows what it is to feel free.
"It was life-changing for me to come out," he said. "When you keep something inside of you for so long, it can take you to a pretty dark spot, and that's what happened to me. It's incredible. You think that when you tell your story, everybody will go away. But it's the opposite effect: Everybody came closer."
If he had gone public with his past earlier, Poulin mused, he would have been a better player. Now he knows it's made him a better coach.
"It's easy for me to see when something is wrong with someone," he said. "I can tell when someone is keeping something inside of them. You try to help everybody off the field and on the field, and I think when people feel better off the field it will show on the field."
So Poulin is now part coach and part counsellor, but also something of a cultural ambassador and sometime translator.
In Trois-Rivi®res, he's shouldered the work of introducing a team of American players to La belle province, teaching them about language and history. It's important, he said. He reckons it makes them want to come to Canada if they understand.
His Aigles lineup has noticed something else about Canada. Their batting coach has a bit of a legacy here. They've seen where Poulin's name and No. 6 are painted on a baseball-shaped plaque looming over Shaw Park's outfield, a memory of that bright 2011 day when the Fish retired his number.
That was "the best day of my life," Poulin said, but he's taking a little razzing for it from his squad.
"Everybody was making fun of me," he laughed. "They were like, 'Max, we should go and take a picture with your sign.' "