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Are the Blue Jays/Mets Exhibition Games at Big O a First Step in Bringing Baseball Back to Montreal?

Baseball
Are the Blue Jays/Mets Exhibition Games at Big O a First Step in Bringing Baseball Back to Montreal?

The momentum for a potential return of Major League Baseball to Montreal has picked up in the last couple of years. The Montreal Baseball Project has been founded. Expos Nation has been founded. They are separate entities, yet both are contributing to the same goal; bringing a baseball team back to Montreal. While MBP launched a feasibility study and Expos Nation has occupied the Rogers Center with fans decked out in Expos gear, the Toronto Blue Jays’ upcoming pair of exhibition games is the first test of whether or not Major League Baseball can work in Montreal again.

The Blue Jays paired with Evenko to put on a series of preseason games against the New York Mets at the Olympic Stadium, the Expos old home. It has been 10 years since Nos Amours last took the field, and while the Expos won’t be back this year, these games will give us a chance to honour them. On Saturday March 29, the 1994 Expos team will be reunited on the field before the game. Pedro Martinez, Ken Hill, Marquis Grissom, Moises Alou, Larry Walker and manager Felipe Alou have all been confirmed. Gary Carter‘s wife and children will also be there. It’s the perfect opportunity for Montreal fans to show that they haven’t forgotten about their Expos and miss the game of baseball. It’s also a chance to show that they would embrace a team again and the market is there for a team to come back.

Baeball fans fill Olympic Stadium to watch the MontrealExpos play their final home game against the Florida Marlins in Montreal, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004. The Expos will move to Washington, D.C. for next season. (AP PHOTO/Paul Chiasson)

Baeball fans fill Olympic Stadium to watch the MontrealExpos play their final home game against the Florida Marlins in Montreal, Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2004.

The Washington Nationals aren’t moving back here, but franchises in need of a new stadium or who are struggling may see Montreal as a suitable home. If it’s not a case of relocation, then perhaps the MLB sees an opportunity for expansion. Either way, Montreal, a metropolitan area with a population of roughly 4 million, can show that it deserves another chance. By showing up to these games, Montrealers may also entice those with deep pockets to further explore the possibility of bringing a team back to the city.

Baseball fans can’t keep harping on the past. If they want a team, they must look to the future and realize how a new team is brought up. The market has to be there and potential investors need tangible evidence that it’s worth it for them to absorb the risk and try to start a franchise, or bring a franchise over to Montreal.

Another key factor for sparking attendance for these games is fans having to realize that they wouldn’t be going there to support the Blue Jays. It’s no secret Montrealers are not fond of Toronto-based teams and there is a very specific reason to hate the Blue Jays. They voted for contraction against the Expos. They voted to have the team moved out of Montreal so they could have a monopoly over Canada. No apology or retraction has ever been offered by the franchise and Expos fans will never forget that.

However, what this chance offers isn’t to start rooting for the Jays. It’s a chance to show that Montrealers want baseball. The perfect message to send is to show up in large numbers to both the March 28 and March 29 games, decked out in Expos gear, boo the Blue Jays and Mets out of the stadium and chant, “Let’s go Expos!”.

Montreal Expos fans show their support for the team  before the Expos game against the New York Mets Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004 ,in New York. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Montreal Expos fans show their support for the team before the Expos game against the New York Mets Sunday, Oct. 3, 2004 in New York.

According to the feasibility study launched by the Montreal Baseball Project, an estimated sum of $1.025 billion is what it would cost to bring a team here. If fans want investors to foot that bill, they have to do their part. Their part is to show unwavering passion and hunger for a team to return and their first chance to show their commitment is to show up at the Big O at the end of the month.

Let’s not go back on why baseball ultimately failed the first time in Montreal. The issue has been beaten to death, and of course many things have changed since that occurred. There’s revenue sharing in the MLB now. Television revenues are the highest they’ve ever been. There are more multimedia companies with deep pockets that could distribute content. Another factor is that if a new Montreal team would have a downtown stadium, it’d be set up for success.

Ironically, all the buzz about a potential baseball return started with a tragedy. Longtime Expos great Gary Carter passed away on February 16, 2012. Since then, fans’ memories were reignited as they fondly recalled all of Carter’s finest moments and began recalling every other fond Expos moment. The good times. The times where the city clearly showed it loves baseball. The years many people seem to never talk about, only pointing to the few rough patches.

Either way, a packed house for both games would definitely be a positive first step in showing baseball and investors that a team would work here. Go to the games and rekindle your love of baseball that still burns somewhere in you. If you want a team back, you have to prove that you want one and would support one.

Montreal Expos Slugger Gary Carter gives the clenched first sign to a roaring crowd as he rounds the bases after knocking out a two-run homer in the third inning of a playoff game with the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, Oct. 8, 1981, Montreal, Canada. (AP Photo/Bill Grimshaw)

Montreal Expos Hall of Famer Gary Carter hits a two-run homer in the third inning of a playoff game with the Philadelphia Phillies, Thursday, Oct. 8, 1981, Montreal, Canada.

Tickets for these games have sold really well, but there are seats still available. Capacity for each game will be roughly 44,000, well short of the stadium’s actual capacity. as it’s closer to baseball configurations and will create a warmer, cozier, baseball-like atmosphere.

Evenko manager of events and business Simon Arsenault gave an estimation of total ticket sales for both games last month. “We don’t like to say how many tickets we have sold so far for each game, but we have sold 68,000 total for both games,” he told Danny Gallagher of CanadianBaseballNetwork.com. “There are good seats still available. We are expecting that we will be sold out, but there is still a lot of work to do. We have to sell 20,000 more tickets. We have sold more tickets for the second game because it’s a Saturday.’’

That Saturday game is also the one where the 1994 Expos will be honoured and will be together at a gala dinner that night, capping off the weekend. It’s time for the return of baseball to look feasible and practical. Fans have talked quite a big game the last few years on how they would support a team coming back. It’s time to walk the walk. If an old crummy stadium can be filled, with crammed seats and  the loud atmosphere Expos games used to have, for two teams Expos fans have always hated, think of how positive a message that sends. Think of how Montreal starts to be viewed as a viable market. Go to the Olympic Stadium on March 28 and/or 29 and let your voice be heard.

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