The following appeared in the Montreal Gazette today.
Another very successful baseball weekend has taken place in Montreal. One that, upon reflection, speaks volumes about how the city has evolved. Over one hundred thousand fans ponied up to watch two games between the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox. The nostalgia was thicker than pine tar, as heroes of yesteryear, former Expos stars, returned to the site of their salad days, and ours.
These weekends are bittersweet, not only for Expos fans, but for all Montrealers. Baseball fans once again get an opportunity to reminisce and experience a major league game, albeit just an exhibition between two out-of-town teams. While all Montrealers are faced with the harsh question: is this what we have become?
Each year the popular Kraft Hockeyville competition selects a winning community – a small town, not one with an NHL team – from the many entries. The sponsor gives the winner cash for local arena upgrades and the next season the town gets to host a televised preseason NHL game. North Saanich, British Columbia is the current Hockeyville. Has Montreal become the baseball version of Hockeyville?
The city of EXPO 67 and the 1976 Summer Olympics now, once a year, plays host to exhibition baseball games, in which teams from other cities compete. Have we morphed from the once proud city that welcomed the world to major events into a town of bean counters? At least we still have the annual Formula 1 visit and of course the International Jazz Festival to exercise our once renowned world hosting skills. While I applaud Mayor Denis Coderre’s unbridled enthusiasm for baseball and his plan to pump money into amateur baseball, I cannot help but think that somewhere Jean Drapeau must be shaking his no doubt haloed-head in sadness and disbelief.
I would love to see Major League Baseball back in Montreal. I have never doubted that this is a baseball city. I can recall with a warm heart the magic of the early eighties version of the Expos. A time when the much-less-than ideal Olympic Stadium was packed to the rafters (I can verify this, having sat one row from the top on several occasions). The success of the team on the field vastly outweighed the venue’s inadequacies.
I do not know if these weekends play any role in determining Montreal’s baseball future. I do know that Major League Baseball belongs in Montreal. Not as a once a year exhibition featuring other cities’ teams, but as the once and future home of the Expos.