This past week, the National Baseball Hall of Fame announced the three players who earned enough votes to be inducted into the shrine of baseball immortality in Cooperstown, N.Y. One of the three players, Tim Raines, made the cut on his last opportunity to be voted in. It should be noted that Mr. Raines, will more than likely be one of the last players (if not the last) from the Montreal Expos to earn the honor. He will join Andre Dawson and Gary Carter, the other Expos who have earned a place in the Hall of Fame.
The news made me think of how baseball, a uniquely American sport, ever really got a foothold in Montreal, a town which is probably best known for being more old-style European.
For our second anniversary, I took my wife Ashley to Montreal for a few days. An extraordinary 16-hour car ride took us from the farm fields of Ohio, through Detroit, through the farm fields of Ontario to the city on an island, Montreal.
For those who have never been, Montreal is certainly unique. Not only is the community extremely multi-cultural (both French and English are widely spoken), the town has a distinct feel. The traditional Canadian maple leaf flag is replaced by the Quebec fleur-de-lis banner almost universally.
The architecture is also very interesting — buildings designed in the architecture of French history stand in stark contrast to modern buildings that look post-modern. Perhaps this was best seen in the Olympic Village.
During our trip, I convinced my wife to watch the Expos play a home game against the New York Mets. The game was played at Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Summer Olympics, were Bruce Jenner became America’s Super Athlete.
The stadium is located in a large park with other venues that have been made into a series of museums. The Olympic Velodrome, where the cycling events took place, has turned into a Montreal biodome. The biodome has exhibits from polar to tropical climates highlighting the animals and vegetation of those areas.
By the time our trip came around, Olympic Stadium turned into a shell of what it once was. A massive concrete structure, it had an odd-shaped concrete inclined tower that hovered over the playing field. The problem was you couldn’t see this from inside, since an effort was made to cover the stadium with what looked like cheap tarps you could buy at the local hardware store.
I was expecting the game to be announced in French, which it was. However, it was surreal when I realized that nearly no one in the stands was speaking in French. For this particular game, the large stadium was only quarter-filled and it appeared that every Boy Scout troop from Vermont and upstate New York made the relatively short trip to watch the game.
Those kids watching the game had more fun slapping the yellow seats of stadium up and down making an annoying noise rather than watching the game.
The folks we sat next to were from the “eastern townships” of Quebec, where English was more widely spoken. They were transplants from New York and were saddened that this was the last time they were seeing the Expos.
In reality, Montreal is really a hockey town and baseball, while it had history and strong show of support from a small group of fans, never enjoyed any great success. The Expos never made it to the World Series and their stadium was probably the worst in the league.
In all honesty, when the Expos left Montreal, it was expected and wasn’t seen as much as a shock. Now, if the Canadiens (one of the most storied franchises in the National Hockey League) were to leave, that would be news.
Above all, Montreal was a unique city. A place where Old World charm meets New World chaos. As I walked through and meandered the city with my wife, I was amazed at how everything seemed to work together. The mixing of cultures and language flowed freely. For those that have never been, it may be a place worth exploring.
William “Bill” Lutz is executive director of The New Path Inc. He can be reached at [email protected]