It was quite a weekend for Montreal baseball fans - a veritable Expos love-in. It seemed like a big reunion that had been put off for years. Make no mistake about it, this was the kind of event that cannot be repeated, even if there are more exhibition games played here next year. The reason for that is simple: This was the first time that Expo fans were able to outwardly express their feelings about losing the team. When it happened in 2004, the atmosphere had been so poisoned that many saw it as the realization of an inevitable process.
Since the Expos became the Nationals, you could feel the sentiments of loss building over the successive years - a little more and a little more. The amazing thing is that despite the passage of nearly 10 years, some things like the routine of the baseball season remain timeless. It has always been at this time of year, when MLB prepares for Opening Day, that I always feel the loss the most.
How amazing was it for nearly 100,000 Montreal baseball fans to respond to the call for a pair of exhibition games? Pretty amazing considering the 2004 Expos drew a total of 749,550 for an entire home season - minus a bunch of Puerto Rico “home” games. But few showed up to cheer on the Jays or Mets… What they came for was to attempt to re-create the atmosphere of old. And they succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest optimistic predictions.
Emotions were the story of this past weekend, beginning with the tribute to the late Gary Carter and ending with the reunion of many members of the ill-fated 1994 team. The events of the past few days which will go down in local sports history as the turning point in efforts to bring baseball back to town, should they eventually succeed. And you have to hand it to the people at Montreal Baseball Project, led by Warren Cromartie. When they began their efforts, many snickered, especially within the media. These same people are not laughing anymore.
Why not also pay a special tribute to the media on both sides of the border who, for over a decade beginning in 1990, took almost non-stop shots at Montreal as a baseball town. They would continuously prognosticate about how the team would eventually relocate until the day it became fact and they could all claim “sadly” that they knew it was inevitable. Yes, many of these same people have now jumped on the baseball belongs in Montreal bandwagon…
Kudos to Montreal’s new mayor, Denis Coderre. He was at the Big Owe publicly expressing his support for bringing MLB back to town. You may very well remember that while the Expos were dying a slow and painful death, then mayor Gerald Tremblay displayed complete disinterest.
But the one thing that boosters of Montreal baseball have today that they didn’t have back in 2004 is social media. In fact, the one thing you can’t help noticing from the two games at the Owe and the events surrounding them are the pictures and videos shot by people who were there, as well as their first-hand accounts. These did not exist during the Expos’ time in Montreal.
Still, that did not mean that the Expos did not already have a huge Internet following back in the pre-Facebook/Twitter days. Back in the late 90s, a fan forum called Baseballboards, later to be renamed Fanhome made it’s debut. It offered message boards for fans of every MLB franchise to post about their teams. Incredibly, the busiest board by far on Fanhome was the one dedicated to the Montreal Expos. Even then, it was clear that the franchise was loved by people far beyond Montreal‘s city limits. I was fortunate to be one of the moderators of that board back in the day, along with Jonah Keri, who has gone on to bigger and better things, most notably being the author of the recently released book about the Expos called “Up, Up, & Away” that you have most certainly heard about and should definitely read. The Fanhome Expos board (Scout.com) today
So what happens now? Has MLB really taken note of what happened here over the past few days? Maybe… But above all else, baseball is a business and as long as there is no individual or group that expresses its desire and/or an ability to spend what will amount to around a billion dollars to reincarnate the Expos in Montreal, then all fans can do is hang on to their memories.
It will be a shame if baseball doesn’t eventually return, because considering our current political climate, how many opportunities do you have to unite over 50,000 people of different linguistic, religious, cultural and even ideological affiliations into the same building bound together by anything in this province?