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No Pro Baseball in Montreal, and Little Hope of Any

By ALAN SCHWARZ

 

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Olympic Stadium, where the Expos played for almost 30 years, now hosts only special events like soccer matches and an occasional high-profile concert.

MONTREAL — The game resembled baseball as best an 8-year-olds’ skirmish can. The Beloeil Braves and the Boucherville Seigneurs smacked grounders and attempted double plays in full uniform, with batting gloves dangling out of their back pockets. Just like the pros.

 

But if Braves Manager Dany Després wanted to take the tykes to a ballpark to see actual professional baseball, Montreal had no options. The Expos’ demise confirmed that the Montreal market was not major league; yet six years later, the city, whose long baseball tradition includes Jackie Robinson’s first minor league home, has yet to attract even a low minor league team.

 

Montreal remains by far the largest city in the continental United States and Canada without a professional baseball franchise. Some entire leagues serve hamlets that barely add up to Montreal’s 1.6 million citizens — many of whom remain connected to the Andre Dawsons and Larry Walkers of the Expos’ not-so-distant heyday.

 

Després almost tears up when his son, Simon, cannot name one player who played at Olympic Stadium. The Boucherville manager, Pascal Tremblay, said baseball in and around Montreal was withering, in part because there was still no minor league team to rekindle its affinity for the sport.

 

“Soccer is the easiest decision for parents,” Tremblay said. “They don’t have to wonder if their kids are going to stand there in the outfield picking up grass. I’m sure if there was a minor league team, people would go with their kids. They’d get 4,000 people. Of course, that’s what they had at the Big O at the end.”

 

Olympic Stadium today looks like a roadside U.F.O. waiting for weeds to consume it. The cavernous stadium bowl still holds its 56,000 yellow and blue seats — somewhere in the upper deck is the one Willie Stargell smacked with a mammoth home run — but life left the place long ago, and it hosts only special events like soccer matches and an occasional rock concert.

 

It is easy to forget that from 1977 to 1983, the Expos drew crowds among the National League’s largest. Their ancestors, the Montreal Royals — whose most famous rookie was Robinson in 1946 — were one of the jewels of the Class AAA International League. When the Expos became the Washington Nationals in 2005, the only good news for Montreal was that it instantly became the most promising minor league market around.

 

But there is no place to play. Olympic Stadium echoes with failure; the Expos’ former home, Jarry Park, is now a municipal tennis court. Not even one college field can be retrofitted for professional use, said Marc Griffin, a former Expos minor league outfielder and broadcaster who for years has tried to bring baseball back to Montreal.

 

A new stadium would have to be built, at a cost of about $10 million, some of which would need to be publicly subsidized.

 

But as Griffin said: “The Expos left a bad taste in people’s mouths. All you heard about in the final years were owner disputes and which players were going to leave. It kind of makes sense to let some time go by — but we can’t wait much longer because it will die.”

 

Visa problems have led major league teams and their 30 sprawling farm systems to quietly abandon Canada — the nation now has only Toronto’s Blue Jays and, among what most people consider the minor leagues, the Vancouver Canadians of the Northwest League. The Edmontons and Calgarys jilted by Organized Baseball have since been scooped up by independent leagues that employ fading professionals and subsist on 2,000 or 3,000 fans a night.

 

Montreal would fit perfectly in the Can-Am League, which has revived pro baseball 160 miles northeast in Quebec. The league plays only during the fine weather of May through early September, and teams can make their own personnel decisions — meaning a Montreal club could hire several former Expos (where have you gone, Boots Day?) as coaches and field some local French-Canadian players without big-league interference.

 

But there is no place to play.

 

“It’s a lot different from the U.S. — Canadians don’t believe in publicly built stadiums,” said Miles Wolff, the commissioner of the Can-Am League and owner of the Quebec franchise. “A hockey arena would be different.”

 

Griffin, who grew up in Quebec and played on Canada’s 1988 Olympic team, said he had found a perfect stadium site — across the St. Lawrence River in the eastern suburb of Longueuil. It is essentially an underused college parking lot, near a Metro station, and could easily house a 4,500-seat ballpark.

 

“Getting 4,000 fans to come is the least of my worries,” Griffin said. “The politics are the hardest part.”

 

While memories of the Expos’ demise encourage some to question French-speaking Canada’s interest in baseball, in the 1970s the province supported three teams in the Eastern League alone: in Trois-Rivières (where Ken Griffey Sr. and his toddler son Ken Jr. spent one summer), Thetford Mines (Willie Randolph played there as a Pittsburgh Pirates farmhand) and Quebec, which supplied the Expos with future icons like Gary Carter, Steve Rogers and Dawson.

 

As late as August 1994, the Expos held first place with a team of All-Stars — Larry Walker, Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou and more — when the strike wiped out the season and the playoffs. Attendance never recovered, ultimately leaving the remaining fans even emptier than the Big O.

 

“People are angry about the Expos — they’re still mad at ’94,” said Fred Page, the vice principal of a Quebec high school. “If you go from a major league team with great talent for so many years to a minor league team, people are insulted.”

No Pro Baseball in Montreal, and Little Hope of Any - The New York Times

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La gaugauche et les bobos, présentement au pouvoir à Montréal, rêvent que Montréal soit une ville de foot.  Culturellement, le baseball est beaucoup trop nord-américain pour eux.  De plus ils voient l

Patrick Lagace is one of those inertia loving journalist in the Quebec media. Wish we would all rally around the huge opportunity this is for our city and our economy.  and that Quebec businessme

Why Major League Baseball Makes More Sense In Montreal Than Tampa Or Miami: https://www.forbes.com/sites/prishe/2019/06/21/why-major-league-baseball-makes-more-sense-in-montreal-than-tampa-or-mia

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"The Expos’ demise confirmed that the Montreal market was not major league; yet six years later, the city, whose long baseball tradition includes Jackie Robinson’s first minor league home, has yet to attract even a low minor league team."

 

I don't think it confirms any of that. I think it was just symptomatic of a particularily disgruntled fan base, which in turn scared off corporations, sponsors and even the media. This city is no minor league town, and there is zero interest for such leagues, even for hockey. So, the love of the sport or the size of the market has very little to do with it. The article's last quote pretty much sums it up for me:

 

“People are angry about the Expos — they’re still mad at ’94,” said Fred Page, the vice principal of a Quebec high school. “If you go from a major league team with great talent for so many years to a minor league team, people are insulted.”

 

 

 

" Jarry Park, is now a municipal tennis court."

 

would've been nice had they acknowledged it also houses one of the more popular international tennis tournament of it's class. but, ok ..

 

 

Baseball in Montreal is far from dead, in my opinion. The expos HAD to go, and now the dust must settle (which it is still in process of). I doubt MLB or even fans here are ready to accept the idea of a new major league franchise right at this moment, but i think that we may see the expos rise from their ashes at some point in the future. Articles like these are slowing seeding this.

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That was 16 years ago; get over it!!!

 

you're right, it was 16 years ago; however, there hasn't been anything redeeming about the few years that followed! it was just bad news after bad news, until some point at the turn dawn of the century where fans just .. gave up.

 

at that point, even though the team hadnt moved yet, the damage was too deep. i think that regardless of what they wouldve tried, some time needed to pass. a bold move like a new stadium wouldve surely shortened that period, but even then: it wasnt just the team that fans had a problem with, but the league, the sport, and i'd even say, pro sports in general. habs attendance at the time was also affected.

 

so yea, its been close to twenty years, and things are slowly healing.. but to truly forget, something positive from baseball has to be shown to fans of this city which didnt get that ever since..

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Maybe Montreal will be able to get an MLB team back, but not anytime soon. It's still bitter. But when you look at the struggle of the Blue Jays, even in Canada's largest market, I have my doubts about MLB coming back to Montreal. But everything is impossible until it happens.

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Maybe Montreal will be able to get an MLB team back, but not anytime soon. It's still bitter. But when you look at the struggle of the Blue Jays, even in Canada's largest market, I have my doubts about MLB coming back to Montreal. But everything is impossible until it happens.

 

I seriously doubt MLB will ever want to come back here...not after what happenned during that final decade!

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Maybe Montreal will be able to get an MLB team back, but not anytime soon. It's still bitter. But when you look at the struggle of the Blue Jays, even in Canada's largest market, I have my doubts about MLB coming back to Montreal. But everything is impossible until it happens.

 

MLB is not interested in Montréal. They have a team in Toronto, so they have the whole canadian market covered (remember: Toronto is Canada).

 

MLB would much rather have a team in smaller American cities like Raleigh-Durham, Portland or Indianapolis, where the local TV market can be more profitable to the national broadcasters.

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      On the way down, pausing for great views of the lovely St. Lawrence River, I pass a pair of oddly segregated cemeteries--one for French speakers, one for English speakers--a site that mutely summarizes the long-festering cultural divisions within Quebec.
       
      I pedal to the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal, a 40-square-block delight of colonial structures and alleyways filled with horse-drawn caleches and itinerant artists. A warm spring sun has unloosed crowds of diners on the city's Euro-gamut of outdoor cafes, bistros and restaurants. The legendary French Canadian reputation for highly developed leisure skills is on full display this Sunday afternoon amid a sea of white tablecloths and red wines so good that even the vin de maison is a pretty sure bet. I eat grilled salmon served rare with escargots on a bed of scallions and garlic, and nearly swoon.
       
      The next day is game day. I visit the Old Fort on St. Helen's Island, in the middle of the St. Lawrence River, before heading to Olympic Stadium. After the War of 1812, the British prepared for a possible American invasion of Montreal by building this moated fortress with eight-foot-long cannons and two-meter-thick stone walls. As something of an invader myself, I grow slightly self-conscious inside those walls. Maybe I'm paranoid, but the eyes of those period-dress sentries make me think they're onto me, pegging me as the expeditionary fingertip of Washington's long arm reaching up to snatch the Expos. I make a discreet but hasty exit.
       
      I arrive three hours before the game, leaving plenty of time to tour the flag-festooned Olympic Park. I buy a ticket for the highly touted gondola ride rising from the spine of Olympic Stadium. Photos of the 1976 Games ornament the waiting area: Nadia Comaneci, Kornelia Ender, Sugar Ray Leonard.
       
      But I soon learn something unexpected about myself: Facing backward in a gondola rapidly moving upward at a 45-degree angle makes me afraid. At the top, pale and sweating, I take in a dramatic aerial view of the famous Olympic Village, the Montreal Botanical Garden and the city's 1967 international Expo site.
       
      Back on terra firma, there's time for one more stop: Moe's Deli and Bar, where Expos fans gather. It's a friendly place with exposed-brick walls, barbecued ribs and desserts kept in an old phone booth by the bar. It's happy hour--two-for-one Labatt beers--till well past game time, perhaps to anesthetize the fans for the poor play sure to follow.
       
      I sit at the bar next to Daniel, a baseball-hatted Expos loyalist, who has a message for D.C. fans. "Don't accept our Expos," he tells me. "You've lost two teams of your own before, so you know what it feels like. Please don't do this to us."
       
      I grimace and finish my second Labatt and push back my stool while Daniel, like all Montrealers I meet, remains a friendly sport to the end.
       
      "When you reach the stadium," he says, "buy the cheapest ticket in the house. It's only $7 Canadian [$4.80 U.S.]. Then, after the first pitch, sit wherever you want."
       
      "A $7 seat, please," I tell the stadium ticket seller moments later, handing over my money. I walk through the turnstile, past the popcorn and pennant venders, toward Section 139, right field. Virtually alone in my area, I take in batting practice amid thoroughly modern trappings: artificial turf, a space-age stadium roof, a gargantuan replay screen in center field. But already it doesn't quite feel like major league baseball.
       
      First, of course, there's the ticket price, about a quarter of what you'd pay at Camden Yards. Then there's the action on the field. An Expos coach is pitching batting practice using a wobbly shopping cart full of baseballs, and he's throwing to the beat of French rock music blasting over the P.A. Thirty feet below me, two teenage boys are standing on a crude scaffold, diligently updating a sprawling pre-World War II-type wooden scoreboard that gives results from around the league. This old-fashioned work, utterly exposed to those of us in the cheap seats, involves taking scores from a press-box official, then reaching into several wooden troughs for wooden slabs hand-painted with numbers and sliding them into the appropriate slot. One of them wears a felt Gatsby hat.
       
      I exit the stands for a quick pregame bite. "One order of poutine," I tell the uniformed attendant at a concession stand. Poutine, a uniquely Quebecois concoction combining french fries, cheddar cheese and beef-stock gravy, is so popular that it's served at McDonald's restaurants throughout the province. I watch the cook in back combine the fries and cheese in a tall paper cup, then slop on a ladleful of thick gravy from a stainless-steel vat. He pauses and then, momentarily indecisive, adds a second, heaping ladleful.
       
      I'm back at my seat in time for the national anthem, spearing dripping mouthfuls of poutine with a fork. For extreme junk food, it's not so bad, though halfway through the serving my stomach begins making odd noises that compete with the junior high school band playing "O Canada" with tubas and French horns on the field.
       
      The Expos take the field next, and the crowd, sprinkled more or less evenly across the stadium, begins banging empty seats up and down in preparation for the opening pitch. Twenty-five-year-old Expos pitcher Mike Thurman is on the mound, and as he warms up you can almost sense the whole place cringe. With an 0-2 record and an ERA of 8.05, he's the worst pitcher on the second-worst pitching staff in the National League. Just two nights ago, Expos pitchers gave up 17 runs in a game.
       
      But the first pitch from Thurman is a strike on the outside corner, and cheers go up just as the strange migration begins. True to Daniel's prediction, everyone in the stands not already seated behind home plate makes a beeline for amazingly choice (and empty) lower-level seats just 20 rows from the field (above a narrow VIP section) in an arc from dugout to dugout. I grab the rest of my poutine and join the exodus. By the end of the first inning, we fans are huddled cozily around home plate.
       
      In the third inning, the Expos stage a mini rally. Third baseman Mike Mordecai lines a clean single to left, and the juices start flowing in the stands. I get caught up in the excitement--this is my team, too--so I stand and begin slamming the back of my chair and cheer madly like those around me. The noise coming from these fans is, no exaggeration, as much as I've heard from crowds four times as big in other parks. Despite the high-decibel support, the rally sputters when Thurman strikes out trying to lay down a bunt.
       
      Next to me, a serious fan named Jean Yves Leduc is studiously scoring the game. He says he's attended at least 40 Expos home games every year for the past two decades. He puts down his scoring pencil and reminisces about highlights, including the 22-inning game against Los Angeles in 1987 and the time he shook hands with third baseman Tim Wallach in the parking lot before a game. "I could feel all the calluses on Wallach's hand from taking extra batting practice every day," Yves says. "I'll never forget those calluses. He was so dedicated to this team and to the game."
       
      And what will Yves do if the Expos leave town?
       
      "I had a talk with my girlfriend," he says, "and I decided that, with all my new free time, I would just go ahead and get married and have a life."
       
      It's the top of the fourth when Thurman makes a mistake pitch and Phillies right-fielder Bobby Abreu lifts a second two-run homer into left field. Four-zip, Philadelphia.
       
      "One more Phillies run," mutters the old farmer next to me after removing his teeth, whistling and putting them back in, "and I'm going home to watch hockey."
       
      Halfway through the fifth inning, Yves gets into an animated conversation with a hot dog vendor. It's all in French, and they both laugh a great deal, and I ask Yves what's so funny. "The crowd's so small tonight that the stadium is telling all the vendors--when they go back for more hot dogs--to go home. They're getting paid for only half a game. But this vendor's decided to avoid the order by not going back to resupply. That way, he can at least get his base pay for the rest of the game."
       
      Sure enough, the vendor walks away with a smile, barking to the crowd, "No hot dogs here! No hot dogs! Pas de chiens chauds!"
       
      Unexpectedly, the Expos make a heroic comeback with three runs in the seventh, while a young relief pitcher called up from Double-A somehow keeps the Phillies scoreless. By the bottom of the ninth, the drama escalates. The Expos are down 4-3 with two outs and a man on second. First baseman Ryan McGuire, who has power, steps to the plate.
       
      We may be few, but we fans do our best. Youppi claps his hairy orange hands and directs our cheers to the field. Chairs are banging. The vendor has stopped not selling hot dogs and is rooting like everyone else. The scoreboard guys are smoking nervously, peeping through a hole in the outfield scoreboard. The guy with the false teeth, true to his word, has stayed to the end.
       
      On a 2-1 pitch, McGuire lifts a towering blast to left field. We jump for joy and cheer louder and louder. But the Phillies's left fielder refuses to give up on the ball. He drifts back, back, back and, incredibly, makes the catch standing against the outfield fence. Five thousand people collapse in their seats in anguish and disbelief.
       
      It was a good game, and the young Expos have no reason to drop their chins. But there is something very sad about the way these previously boisterous fans shuffle slowly out of the stadium. An unusually large number stop and linger at souvenir stands by the exit gates. Souvenir. A French word meaning "to remember." For many of these fans, this may very well be the last time they see their Expos. They buy hats, T-shirts, pennants. To remember.
       
      I take the Montreal Metro back to downtown thinking two things. First, I sincerely hope Montreal figures out a way to keep its team, and prosper, even if it means we in D.C. don't get one. Second, if the Expos do come to us, I can't wait for the day when I can take the Washington Metro to a baseball game with my son. I'll really show him how to make a stadium chair hum.
       
      -----------------------------------
       
       
      :rolleyes:



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