MONTREAL - If you just happen to spot Brendan Gallagher around Houston this coming weekend, your eyes aren't deceiving you.
The 27-year-old forward, along with some family members and friends, is heading to the Lone Star State to watch his beloved Toronto Blue Jays battle the Astros in a three-game set at Minute Maid Park.
Trips like these have become an annual summer tradition in the Gallagher household, with previous stops at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, Wrigley Field in Chicago, and most recently at Fenway Park in Boston last year.
"We went down to Seattle a bunch of times since it's so close to Vancouver, and then we decided to venture out. It's really the fifth or sixth series that we've followed the team," explained Gallagher, whose allegiance to the two-time World Series champions has been well documented over the years. "We have a lot of fun with it. It's one of those things that you can do together. It's not often that we all get to cheer for the same team, but everyone in our family is a Jays fan. It's probably the only sport where we can say that. We enjoy watching them, and spending time together is probably the real bonus of the trip."
Unfortunately, there will be a couple of members of the Gallagher clan who'll miss out on the fun this time around. Both of the seven-year NHL veteran's sisters - Erin and Breanne - have previous commitments back home.
"My older sister, I believe she couldn't get time off work. My little sister, she's got soccer playoffs, so she couldn't. They got replaced, though. We're all over them for the lack of commitment. They've got to get their priorities in order. Obviously, this trip should be the most important thing they're doing," joked Gallagher, before listing off the designated substitutes. "I'm bringing a buddy and my brother, Nolan, is bringing a friend as well. There's also Ty Smith, a New Jersey Devils prospect who's living with me this summer. He's also coming. But, he has to prove himself. I don't know how loyal a Jays fan he is. He might not be invited next year if he doesn't support them."
So what prompted the Gallaghers to make Houston their stop this year?
"We just want to see some of the best players in the world. It's also more so the team. They've been so special the last few years. They have so many good players that you want to watch them," mentioned Gallagher, who is looking forward to observing some of the Blue Jays' young studs battle the top squad in the American League West. "Hopefully we get to see Vladdy. [Cavan] Biggio is also a guy I'm excited to watch. There are a lot of young players, so hopefully they can hang in there."
When the Blue Jays aren't in action, Gallagher is planning on enjoying the sights and sounds of the most populous city in Texas. Meeting up with a teammate with strong local ties is also on the docket during his stay.
"We're going to do the whole NASA Space Center. That's probably the thing my mom is most looking forward to. We've also been looking around to see some Texas-style ranches and just get some good food," revealed the Canadiens' leading goal-scorer the last two seasons. "Jeff Petry [whose wife, Julie, is a Houston native] is meeting us down there, too. He's going to be there with his family, so he should be at the games as well. He'll obviously be rooting for the Astros, but it'll be great to hang out with him."
No doubt the Blue Jays will be in tough against an Astros contingent that is perennially one of the top teams in baseball, but Gallagher is hoping manager Charlie Montoyo's squad can deliver the goods while he's in the stands.
If so, that would buck a rather disappointing trend.
"Our record on these trips hasn't been good. They lost every series in Seattle we were at. They were swept in Chicago when we were there. We went to three of the four games in Boston last summer and they only won one of those," said Gallagher, who will proudly be sporting his Roy Halladay jersey on site. "We've never actually seen a successful road trip, but maybe this will be the one."
As for the Blue Jays' struggles over the last couple of seasons, Gallagher is eager to see them right the ship in short order.
"There's no other team for me, but it's tough right now. We've got to stick with them in these hard times. It makes the good times that much sweeter," concluded Gallagher. "Hopefully it won't take much longer."
A meaningful journey
The significance of the Gallaghers' annual baseball road trip certainly isn't lost on Brendan's father, Ian, who wholeheartedly appreciates the experience year and year.
"It's true escapism. Sometimes with hockey families, you feel like you're such a participant and you're not necessarily a fan. Here's something we've always enjoyed. Baseball has been a part of our household for many years," said Mr. Gallagher, the owner and operator of the Delta Hockey Academy in Delta, BC. "My wife was an active competitor in the sport, our daughter played the sport, and Brendan was quite active in baseball. We've always been passionate Blue Jays fans back to the 80s. This is a great way to combine our passion for sports and experience new cities together."
Video: Habs take batting practice at Olympic Stadium
And one of the many wonderful attractions in Houston is Minute Maid Park, so it ultimately found its way onto the family's radar when the trip planning process began.
"Being a fan of the sport, the ballpark is one of the identities of different programs. If you really want to find out about a team, you've got to visit their homes," insisted Mr. Gallagher. "We kind of spread it around and try to get to the places that are a little bit more renowned in their histories. That's the land of Nolan Ryan."
Wins or losses aside, though, treks like these are really all about family.
"We've got memories from many different summers, lots of great memories," concluded Mr. Gallagher. "This is just another one to look forward to."