By Jason Menard
The Montreal Expos are officially (well, more or less) leaving town for good this year. The field of Olympic Stadium will no longer play host to Nos Amours. It appears to finally, once and for all, say goodbye to Canada’s first professional baseball team.
I should feel sad. I should be angry. But the problem is, I don’t feel a thing. I said goodbye a long time ago and never looked back.
I grew up an Expos fan during the glory years of The Hawk, The Rock, Cro’, Tim Wallach, Steve Rogers, Black Monday, and on into the divine “Year That Never Was” in 1994. I even stuck around to see the one who may be the greatest Expo ever – Vladimir Guerrero.
I was angry at the fire sales, the inept and deceiving ownership, and the constant jokes from outsiders who didn’t understand. I shook my head at lazy sports columnists who referred to Montreal – with over three million people within 15 minutes of the island – as a small market.
Spending a few years in Ontario as the Blue Jays rose to prominence, I spent many a day defending Canada’s First professional baseball team from its upstarts to the West. Most of all, I resented the expressed belief that Montrealers didn’t support baseball. But that’s all in the past, now.
What I choose to remember are the good times. For years I would take the Métro to the Stadium and take my seat in the left-field bleachers for Opening Night. In later years, I would take my son, when he began to take an interest in sports – and could stay awake longer than the fourth inning! And what I remember most is this – baseball in Montreal works.
I’m not a fan of Olympic Stadium by any means. In fact, the only times I’ve seen the stadium alive was for the Grey Cup and on Opening Night. When you packed 50,000 screaming fans into the stadium, you got an atmosphere. The feeling was electric and everywhere you looked you saw the smiles lighting up each and every face – young and old, male and female, French and English.
And then came game two. For the last decade, like a cresting wave, crowd size would crash until 5,000 people was considered a good draw. Sure, people would come out for $1 steamie (hot dogs to those devoid of Quebecois) night, but rare was the day that I couldn’t buy walk-up tickets and have my pick of the lot.
Where did those 45,000 fans go? Well, the simple answer was that they knew they weren’t wanted, so they didn’t go back. The Spectacle was over, life goes on…
For years Montrealers were told that Olympic Stadium was a terrible place to watch baseball and that the sport couldn’t survive in such a venue. So, people started to stay away. After all, if you’re told how terrible it is to go someplace, why would you go. And then there were discussions about the downtown stadium that would revitalize the sport in Montreal. But that died.
People would stay away, and then the ownership would get rid of the best (read: most expensive) players and get futures in return. This only compounded the problem. After all, why would you go watch baseball in a terrible venue, just to get attached to players that would end up leaving anyway? And still the sportscasters would find cause to criticize Montrealers for not supporting this team.
So the spiral continued down, eroding fan support. But the fans weren’t gone – they were just in hibernation, waiting for the bit of good news that never came. Then MLB takes over and the team is left playing with one hand tied behind its back. Rumours of moves to West Virgina, Las Vegas, and Washington became annual events. So why should you go to a game, when they’re just riding out their time with a less-than-competitive team in a stadium that kind of looks like a toilet bowl.
Appropriately, the fans flushed the Expos.
I stopped going to Opening Night. I stopped going to games. I stopped watching baseball altogether. And while the pundits will now polish their boots to kick Montrealers while they’re down — making their snide comments about Montreal’s lack of support and small market mentality, I’ll know better.
Because I was there. Me and 50,000 others at Opening Night, the thousands who followed the team in The Gazette and La Presse, the countless masses who gathered around TVs in living rooms, pubs, and bars to watch the games – we know, in our heart of hearts, the truth.
We never got a pitch to swing at. Baseball just gave Montreal a decade-long Intentional Walk.
2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved