A look back into the past, while forward to the future: Baseball back in Montreal?
The 2005 Washington Nationals arrived in DC as a revamped franchise that had struggled for so long. It saw the likes of Brad Wilkerson, Livan Hernandez, Jose Vidro, John Patterson, and Brian Schnieder come to a city that had longed to see baseball again. The city that had their team moved to DC to become the Nationals was Montreal. The Montreal Expos had become second to the NHL's Canadiens, and had lost many of their fans after the 1994 strike. With the franchise's best years behind them, a depleted fan base, and a troubled front office that was ultimately finished off by Jeffrey Loria, their move to DC was sudden but not surprising.
Now the city of Montreal was in the same position that DC had been before that 2005 season. It was going on ten years since the city had seen "Nos Amours" take the field at Olympic Stadium.
Then came along a Canadian based company Evenko, with a fantastic idea: baseball back in Montreal. After setting up an NBA exhibition game in Montreal that featured the Toronto Raptors, the company discovered the success they could have with a baseball game. Not only did they plan one, but two. Two games at Olympic Stadium that would feature the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets.
The plan worked, and the city of Montreal made it a statement to show their support of something they have been missing, something they want back: Baseball. Attendance totaled 96,350 for the two games held March 29 & 30; listed capacity of Olympic Stadium is 45,757. The fans in Montreal showed that this city could be a goldmine. Baseball had succeeded there once, it could succeed there again. Baseball has left and returned to many cities over the sport's long history; a scenario with which Washington, DC is very familiar.
With a feasibility project revealed in December that stated Montreal could support a Major League Baseball team once more, and support from both ExposNation, an independent fan group, and Montreal Baseball Project headed by former Expos outfielder Warren Cromartie, baseball has a chance to return.
And why not? Ten years later, much has changed since the Expos departure in 2004. First, the US and Canadian dollar are now as close to par as it had ever been. It would make costs and revenue sharing so much easier, which would be needed for a team to succeed.
Also, a TV contract would be much easier to gain. Canadian media has grown, and with the expansion of internet media and wireless coverage, revenue from all of that would help jumpstart the money flow that never helped keep players like Vladimir Guerrero or Orlando Cabrera.
Lastly, whether the team is put there via movement of a franchise such as Tampa Bay or Oakland, or expansion, some natural rivalries could spawn again. If the Rays, being in the AL East would be prime. There would be the use of the DH, with the Yankees, Red Sox, and Blue Jays coming into town multiple times a year, as well as a possible interleague match ups with the NL East bringing back old rivalries with the Mets, Phillies, Braves, it could be a moneymaker for attendance; especially a new interleague rivalry with the Expos/Nationals possibly? What was pitted against what is now? Could have some value to it.
After attending both games between the Blue Jays and Mets, it's safe to say Montreal is still a baseball town, and always will be. Being part of the door opening for Jackie Robinson, to other great players such as Andre Dawson, Gary Carter, Pedro Martinez, Larry Walker, etc, baseball will always be part of the city.
With pre-game ceremonies before the two exhibition games, one honoring the late Gary Carter, and another celebrating what was the 1994 Montreal Expos, not only was the city showing their support, but yet at the same time were celebrating; Celebrating what was, and hopefully for them (and myself as a former Expos but current Nationals fan), could possibly be in the future. How long, only time will tell. However, it could be sooner than many expected.
What does this mean for baseball and the Nationals? It means things can become complete, become full circle. I can only hope for the day I see the Nationals play a major league Montreal team.