Walking into any Montreal metro station on the evening of March 31, many commuters were probably confused to see the unfamiliar sight of baseball fans. Draped in Blue Jays blue and white with smatterings of the old Expos colours, fans packed onto the subway to head to see the Blue Jays and Pittsburgh Pirates face off in the final spring training series at the Olympic Stadium.
Those who showed up early witnessed a pre-game ceremony honouring former Expos outfielder Tim Raines—a fan favourite and recent addition to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Joining him on the field were several of his old teammates ,including Bill “Spaceman” Lee, Warren Cromartie, and Jeff Reardon. The crowd went wild for Raines as he entered the field in a golf cart. A video tribute, highlighting moments from his time with the Expos, and he was awarded a base with the number 808 on it—a representation of his stolen base total.
After Raines threw out the ceremonial first pitch, it was time to play. It may only have been a preseason game, but to onlookers, it might as well have been late October. Every Blue Jays hit or spectacular defensive play was met with raucous applause, and every time Montrealer Russell Martin stepped into the batter’s box, cheers rained down from the stands. Though the game ended in an anticlimactic 1-1 tie, the fans showed that baseball fandom still lives in Montreal. It should prove only a matter of time before the MLB returns to La Belle Province.
The excitement from the fans did not go unnoticed by MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, who told reporters that he is open to the idea of bringing baseball back to Montreal. Outside of the commissioner’s office, The Canadian Press announced that a group of investors in Montreal have met the demands laid out by the league for the return of a MLB team to the city. Last year, two Montreal businessmen, Stephen Bronfman and Mitch Garber, publicly revealed their commitment to bringing back an MLB team. Bronfman’s father, Charles, was the majority owner of the Expos from the team’s formation in 1968 until 1990, when he sold the team to a consortium of local investors.
Last summer, Manfred told reporters that Montreal and Mexico City were his two personal frontrunners for expansion teams, but that the league has some problems it needs to address before thinking about adding another team. Both the Tampa Bay Rays and Oakland Athletics have stadium issues that need to be resolved, and having Montreal as an option in its back pocket allows the league to put pressure on these cities to invest in new venues.
The lack of an acceptable stadium is also one of the main barriers to a new Montreal team. The Olympic Stadium housed the Expos from 1977-2004, but is outdated and was never a suitable home for the team. The reality of the situation is that it would require a new multi-million dollar downtown stadium to entice the MLB to bring baseball back to Montreal. The investors are also aware of this and scouted various potential locations and designs for a new stadium fitting this criteria.
Montrealers have proven that baseball is still alive; whether or not these plans materialize is up to the MLB, investors, and the Quebec government.