BY Dean Bertoia & Jayda Pounder

On September 29, 2004, the Montreal Expos played their final home game. The team was terrible that season, and that the game itself was a resounding 9-1loss to the Florida Marlins. Still, for many that night, the disappointment had nothing to do with losing the game, but losing the team.

Ryan Tobin attended that last game at 10 years old. He vividly remembers being devastated by the final out at the Big O,’ a pop-out to third base by Expos outfielder Terrmel Sledge.

“One of the saddest memories of my life, one of the saddest days,” he says.

Tobin’s father had surprised him with tickets to the final game when he walked in the door after school that day. Together with roughly 35,000 other fans, they went to send off the team they’d always rooted for as baseball lovers. While he was happy to go to the final game, he ended up leaving in tears:

“I was crying, my dad was crying, adults all over too.”

Ticket from a Montreal Expos game

Ticket from fan’s first-ever Expos game she attended on May 13, 1986. Courtesy of Twitter user @MissTellier.

However, recent developments have Expos fans rejoicing. There is now a possibility that this final somber memory of the Expos playing in Montreal could be replaced by new ones. A Montreal consortium is working towards bringing the team back, starting with finding them a new home field.

But there are still hurdles to overcome.

Stephen Bronfman, the frontman financier for the Montreal Baseball Project, has proposed to build a new stadium in the Bridge-Bonaventure area of Griffintown. However, The Office de Consultation Publique de Montréal (OCPM), Montreal’s independent consultation partner on public projects, plans to evaluate the potential development of the area.

Bronfman sent the OCPM what their secretary general Luc Doray bluntly calls nothing more than “a promotional statement.”

“There was no studies, no details, no circulation data, not even a stadium design,” says Doray. “As of now, it’s just an idea.”

Bronfman and his group may have lacked details in their push for public support, but Doray says that if they were to go through the proper channels, this idea could actually become a city mandate.

Another promising sign of baseball’s return is a proposal by the Montreal Baseball Project of splitting home games with the Tampa Bay Rays. The Rays struggled with attendance, but didn’t struggle in the standings last season. They finished second in the American League East. They then beat the Oakland Athletics in the wild card game before losing in the divisional round to the Houston Astros in five games.

The Rays are contractually to play in Tampa Bay until 2027, but are working with the league and Montreal party to find ways to split games by 2024. This could give Montreal 40 home games, opening the possibility of the Rays eventually moving to Montreal.

Players from the 1982 Montreal Expos team

Montreal Expos players prepare for the all-star game in July 1982. Courtesy of Twitter user @PolyesterUnis.

Sports economist Moshe Lander believes that it isn’t replacing a current team, but expansion that is Montreal’s best chance to acquire a team.

“MLB will likely expand with two more teams within the next decade,” he says. “A 32 team league is perfect for a large sports league, as you can have four divisions of four teams or two divisions of eight teams per conference.”

Currently sitting at 30 teams, the MLB has shown interest in five expansion candidates: Portland, Mexico City, Charlotte, Las Vegas, and Montreal.

“Assuming each city is equally likely, then Montreal has a 40 percent chance of getting a team,” says Lander. “Add to it that Oakland and Tampa desperately need new stadiums and their respective cities won’t put up the money, they could be targets for relocation, which increases our chances.”

Montreal expos fan attendance

Total fan attendance of the Expos games from 1969-2003. Media by Jayda Pounder. Stats from Expos Nation.

However, a poll done last year by Léger Marketing showed that young Quebecers would prefer to see a basketball team rather than a baseball team. The survey shows that only age groups 35 or older would prefer the Expos coming back.

“Baseball is increasingly a game that is attended by old, white men,” says Lander. “The demographics in Montreal have changed dramatically in just the last 20 years since the Expos left.”

Montreal Expos fans

Fans showing love for the expos at a Red Sox game in 2018. Courtesy of Twitter user @wjegher.

Jonathan Eccles loves all sports, but has loved basketball his entire life. He is quite the player himself. He was a starting point guard at the collegiate level for John Abbott College, and is still a fully-fledged member of Montreal’s ever growing basketball community.

“Sure a lot of people would be excited to see an MLB team in the city, but I’m sure even more would be excited to see an NBA team,” says Eccles. “Especially after the [Toronto] Raptors run, we saw what that did for all of Canada, and I think we should ride that wave. Strike while the iron is hot, you know?”

Will Nkashama, another basketball fanatic, pointed to the fact that all this fuss about a new stadium wouldn’t exist for basketball. The Bell Centre is the perfect size and location to host a team.

“Besides, how many kids do you know playing baseball these days anyway?” he asks.

According to baseball and basketball Quebec, roughly 17,000 more kids are signed up for basketball than baseball.

But according to Lander, basketball doesn’t seem to be making its way to the city anytime soon.

“I think what happened is we got caught up in Raptor-mania last summer because this city is so desperate for a champion, so we got behind a basketball team just so we could feel a part of a winner,” says Lander. “I think that kind of stimulated the talk that maybe we should have a basketball team here.”

Should Basketball come to Montreal? Video by Jayda Pounder.

Nostalgia may be driving Montreal’s wealthiest investors to champion baseball, but some say that the type of team isn’t as important as the idea of bringing any team to the city.

“Sports have a way of bringing communities together like nothing else,” says Tobin.

Main photo from Pixabay.
Published july 3, 2020.