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The Montreal Expos
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The Montreal Expos – Closer To Their Return than You Thought
Sept 23rd 2016
Baseball is alive and well in Quebec.
I recently had a conversation with Jean Boulais who is the President of Baseball Quebec as well as the Governor of the World Baseball Hall of Fame. An organization which has in their fold, among others, World Series Champion Cito Gaston, former Major League players Steve Rogers and Roberto Clemente Jr.
The goal here is for The Monolith Universe to get a better understanding on the state of baseball in Quebec as it may relate the return of
Les Expos De Montreal.
Here were some of the Highlights of our interview:
Monolith Sports(MS) – Can you tell me about the state of baseball in Montreal and Quebec back when the Expos left in 2004.
Jean Boulais (JB) – “It was very disheartening back in 2004. People really enjoyed the Expos since 1967. So you had the real diehard fans out there. Knowing they were leaving for ridiculous reasons, it was very disheartening. The political climate wasn’t there and people who wanted the team to stay were not there. Little League participation dipped from over 40 000 kids in the (mid-1980’s) to only 14 000 in 2004.” The sport was crippled in the province.
(MS) How do you feel about MLB’s handling of the Montreal Expos during the 2003-2004 period?
(JB) “It’s hard to say if they really helped out in trying to keep the team in Montreal. The organization wanted to move the team. They wanted Washington. You know.”
(MS) Can you tell me about the state of baseball in Montreal and Quebec presently?
(JB) “BOOMING. Montreal has been booming in baseball for quite a number of years now. Like I said, the province went down to 14000 kids playing in 2004, now 31 000 are playing here in 2016. We experienced a major drop when the Expos left and we had to rebuild from the bottom up getting new fans and participants and getting older fans to coach and umpire and teach the game. Every one of the 14 regions in the province has had an increase in participation. Baseball diamonds are now taking the place of soccer fields, we are transforming soccer fields into baseball fields. It’s remarkable”
(MS) What do you think of the attendance success of these pre-season games at the Big O in Montreal (50 000+ fans per pre-season game for the last two seasons)
(JB) “Major, Major. Instrumental to getting baseball known (and back) throughout the province. Montreal has been booming in baseball for quite some number of years now.”
QUOTE – ROB MANFRED – RE: EXPOS PRE-SEASON GAME ATTENDENCE
“When you have the kind of success you’ve had in Montreal you kind of pass the first initial test of whether it’s a market that could support baseball.”
(MS) So, what are the next steps to bringing back the Expos? Where does it go from here?
(JB) There are steps being taken right now in the background, the Mayor is a BIG BIG baseball fan. He is working in the background to bring a Major League Baseball team back to Montreal.
(MS) Have we heard anything from the business community? Has anyone stepped up? Has anyone mentioned anything who has money?
(JB) “I know there are some (people and organizations) because I remember hearing some names (in past meetings and conversations). They are going to need to find land downtown to build a new stadium which is very rare.”
(MS) So there are interested people with the money involved in this project who see it as viable?
(JB) “Yes.” According to Boulais there are interested people who see this team as viable. There are groups with money involved in this (project of bringing the expos back) and they are speaking to the Mayor presently.
While Boulais did not reveal any of the particular companies or individuals he is speaking of he did mention “the Bronfman Family still being involved” as being people to keep an eye on in this process. (Wink wink?)
(JB) “The Mayor has a puzzle, the puzzle is being filled up very slowly but surely and the main goal is to bring a major league team back.” said Boulais.
Right now baseball is keeping the return of the Expos very quiet. This is typical of leagues that may relocate a franchise. Clearly the Tampa Bay (I still call them Devil )Rays are the best candidate to be moved to Montreal. Because of the fees involved and the MLB's seemingly lack of interest in expansion, relocation will be the road back for Montreal.
Major League Baseball however can not appear to be just giving up on a market. This would alienate the partners and fans they have in Montreal. Although as we saw with these Expos, that quiet action tends to loose it's silence near the end. We shall see.
One thing for certain is it would appear Baseball is alive and well in Montreal with an eye on the future. A future that appears closer than we thought. The grass roots have begun taking hold as youth participation is up and the love of the game has returned. Old wounds have healed as tends to happen with an old and true love. Once again summers are shimmering with diamonds all over the Quebec landscape. That’s what baseball wants to see if the Expos are to return. Not just a few flashes of great attendance, as encouraging as that is, rather a consistent idea that baseball is in the fabric of the community. And it is in La Belle Province.
The Expos return is becoming more of a reality every day. In recent years the return of the club has gone from bar stool conversation to a very real possibility and this writer believes after speaking with Jean Boulais that the best is yet to come.
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My first time
Sept 13th 2016
You never forget that first time. I had a working knowledge of what I was up against, but it was love at first sight. It was April 16, 1988. It was six weeks away from my 11th birthday.
It was the first time I would see a MLB game in person. It was the Montreal Expos hosting the Philadelphia Phillies at le Stade Olympique, or Olympic Stadium for the anglophones.
My family and I were in Montreal that weekend. I'm not sure why we went there, but the only thing I remember about this trip was the three hours spent at the ballpark that Saturday night.
Watching sports for me began in the summer of 1987, intensified during the Calgary Winter Olympics in February 1988 and has maintained that level of commitment to this present day. But up until that point I'd only watched sports on TV and not in person. Being there in person changed the whole experience for me. It felt like I was part of the event as a whole, not just feeling kinship over a screen communicating images via a satellite.
I'd only seen baseball on tv via Blue Jays broadcasts on CTV or NBC's Game of the Week (on Saturday afternoon). I fell hard for the game in 1987, during the Blue Jays drive for the division in September & October. The heartache of those last seven losses to close that season only cemented my membership to the fan club and whetted my appetite for baseball. However, to the best of my knowledge, I didn't go to a live baseball game until next season.
I didn't really know much about the Expos, other than they were the only other MLB team in Canada. I liked Expos outfielder Tim "Rock" Raines, because of his nickname and that he was a less flashier version of the Yankees' Rickey Henderson. Henderson, left fielder and lead off hitter for the New York Yankees, led the American League in stolen bases. Raines did the same - both in lineup spot and position as Rickey - in the National League during that mid-to-late 80s period. Raines was named "Rock" not because of his physique, but because of his durability. First baseman Andres "The Big Cat" Galarraga was graceful around that bag (a Gold Glove winner for his defensive prowess) and just as smooth at the plate (a 29-home run, .305 AVG season would take place in 1988). I also liked them on an aesthetic level. Most teams in the 1980s had their road uniforms coloured in a baby-blued hue - my favourite colour. Their caps were a three-coloured panel of red, white and blue.
The first thing I noticed about Olympic Stadium was that it was huge. Cavernous. I didn't know that it had held the Summer Olympics track and field events a dozen years ago, but to me it felt like TV didn't do the live experience any justice. I felt like an ant staring up at the sole of an orange boot - which was the colour of the roof covering the stadium. I remember the outfield wall looking literally like a wall - one headlong crash into it might knock a man-sized hole into the wall.
There was also some plexiglass built into the wall for some reason in the left and right field power alleys, which seemed a bit strange to me since the bullpens were situated down the left and right field foul lines.
The game itself was a blur. I didn't know it at the time, but it would be the only time I would see Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt play in person. Schmidt would hit 537 home runs in his career, but none that night in The Big O.
He would retire a year later, en route to his eventual induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Lance Parrish, a perennial all-star at the catching position for the Phillies, hit a home run off Montreal starter Bryn Smith that gave the visitors a 1-0 lead into the ninth inning.
Cue the Expos heroics. Graig Nettles, at the tail end of a solid career that took a World Series turn in the Bronx, hit a pinch-hit home run to tie the game in the ninth inning with two outs. All I remember from that ninth inning was a great cheer arising from the Saturday night crowd as Nettles took Phillies starter Kevin Gross deep. It was the 390th and final home run of Nettles' 19-year career.
The game went to extra innings - another live first for me - and I witnessed my first walk-off hit, courtesy of Expos second baseman Tom Foley. He drove in the aforementioned Big Cat, Galarraga, who started the tenth inning with a double and trotted in from third base with the winning run.
That first Expos game started a relationship with baseball that's seen some great days (back-to-back World Series titles in Toronto) and some gloomy ones (the Expos moving to Washington after 2004, and the Blue Jays finishing last in their division that same season).
I lost touch with baseball after 1997 - coincidentally the first year of American League versus National League teams a.k.a. interleague play. I attended that first game between Toronto and Montreal at the SkyDome, and coincidentally, it ended in another taut 2-1 Expos win. Another future Hall of Famer played that night for the Expos; Pedro Martinez showed much of the flash and form that would propel his candidacy to Cooperstown. He struck out 10 batters and threw a complete game, one of a baker's dozen he would toss that year en route to winning his first Cy Young Award.
Martinez's complete game gem was probably the last great baseball performance I saw in person for about six years, whereupon I discovered my love for baseball again. And I have to thank the Montreal Expos for igniting that passion. Those feelings I started having as an 11-year old have grown to an all-encompassing love for the game. Merci beaucoup, Nos Amours.
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