The Olympic Stadium in happier times. Photo by madmiked via Flickr
For Montreal baseball fans, the agony began eight years ago.
That October, the Expos lost to the New York Mets at Shea Stadium in the final game of the 2004 regular season. The following spring, the team took the field in a different city, under a different name — the Washington Nationals.
A few weeks ago, for the first time in their history, the Nationals clinched a playoff berth, and while joy swept D.C, Expos fans were left to wonder what could have been.
And they were also left to ask themselves: can that be us one day?
Maybe. After all, the city seems to miss the Expos more than ever. But, then again, per some commentators, maybe not.
Across the border, several notable baseball minds have weighed in on the matter, notably ESPN.com writer Jim Caple, who, in an August piece, championed Montreal as a city with a great baseball heritage that deserves another shot at having a Major League team.
The chief obstacle, of course, would be finding a person to bankroll the comeback. That, says Grantland.com writer Jonah Keri, is improbable. Keri, a former Montrealer, has a book on the Expos, The Definitive History of the Montreal Expos, set to be published in 2014.
“The other factors are not nothing, either,” he continues. “You have to have someone who comes in with a least a billion dollars, who’s willing to build a stadium downtown, with most of it being their own money because the province is probably not going to kick in anything.”
And the challenges don’t end there. “Then there’s the issue of whether it’ll be expansion or a team moving. There’s all these obstacles before you even get to the fact that it was a toxic situation, and even when [current MLB commissioner] Bud Selig is long gone, baseball has a long memory; it’s very slow to change and do like things like that, to go back to a market where things were so horrible, in their minds, anyways, so I don’t see it happening.”
Keri’s opinion may be a tough pill for some to swallow. But many locals aren’t pushing as hard as possible to get the team back this second. Rather, they believe the time will come for baseball to get a second try in Montreal.
Annakin Slayd, the rapper behind the Expos ode “Remember” and Gary Carter tribute “Kid,” is not pressing for an immediate return. Slayd played a significant role in last summer’s Montreal Baseball Project, a weekend-long, Warren Cromartie-hosted homage to the team’s 1981 line-up, which almost reached the World Series.
“I think we’re in the phase where we’ve gotten past the bitterness,” says Slayd. “We’ve gotten past the pushing it away and not wanting to deal with it. Now we’re in the phase of embracing the memory, embracing the history, and I think that period has to go out a little longer before we start talking about what are the ways to bring [the Expos] back.”
Members of the local media, including TSN 690’s Matthew Ross and Dave Kaufman, have done their share to encourage an Expos return as well. Ross runs the Montreal Expos Facebook community page, currently 153,000 “Likes” strong, and has organized gatherings at Major League games to let the baseball world know that Montreal hasn’t forgotten about the Expos.
Kaufman, one of Montreal’s best-known baseball voices, echoes writer Jonah Keri’s sentiment. He has spent many nights on air talking about the Expos, including the night of Carter’s death, when he took calls from mourning fans who wished to pay their respects and share their memories of their fallen hero.
“For me, the Expos are part of my Montreal history and culture,” says Kaufman. “I think a lot of people feel that way, and there have been a lot of people over the last eight years who have been very upset and not okay [with talking] about it.
“I’m not one of them. I want to talk about it, and I want to remember and keep it alive, and not with the idea that it’s coming back — just that what we had was really good, and it shouldn’t be swept under the rug.” ■