Expo Fan Appreciation Day

On May 27, 1968 Major League Baseball announced that two expansion teams would join the National League in the following year. Those teams would be based in San Diego California and Montreal, Quebec Canada. This would be the first time that MLB would have a franchise located outside of the United States boundaries. The Montreal team ownership group was led by Charles Bronfman who made his fortune in the Seagram’s distilling company which somehow seemed a perfect fit. The team name would be the Montreal Expos which were named after the Expo ’67 world’s fair which also seemed pretty appropriate. From the beginning this franchise had going for it someone who loved alcohol and was named after the world’s biggest carnival and midway. You fully expected to see drunk carnies wandering around the stadium hawking their wares or inviting you in to see the three legged bearded woman with gills who happened to be pitching tonight.

The Expos began play in 1969 winning the first game in their existence beating the New York Mets 11-10 at Shea Stadium. On April 14, 1969 the first major league baseball game was played in Canada and the Expos beat the St. Louis Cardinals 8-7. The first 7 years the team played at Parc Jarry stadium. They would move in 1977 to Olympic Stadium which housed the 1976 Summer Olympic games. The new stadium was huge and very utilitarian. Gone was the closeness you felt at Parc Jarry and gone was the natural grass. Olympic Stadium had artificial turf which was bad on players and fans alike. It was like watching pinball games as balls raced through the infield or bounced off seams in the carpet.

The Expos were a small market team that struggled to establish an identity beyond the first Canadian franchise. Initially the team drew a good fan base but the years of being unsuccessful took its toll on the team and the fans. Several notable players made their name starting in Montreal including Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Gary Carter, Randy Johnson, and Vladimir Guerrero. Each though would move on to bigger markets and bigger paydays. Baseball in Montreal became a struggle both on and off the field. Ownership groups changed leaving confusion in the font office. Work stoppages by the owners and players alienated fans especially hard in Montreal as the Expos were on track to have the best season of their history in 1994 before a strike ended the season early. The Expos struggled to reach agreements with media outlets leaving fans without radio and television coverage. This media black-out further expanded the apathy that was engulfing the team. When baseball’s incarnation of Darth Vader became the owner of the team it was clear that baseball was doomed in Montreal. Owner Jeffrey Loria demanded a new stadium from Montreal and withheld television rights and player signings to force the city into succumbing to his demands. This left fans frustrated and disheartened which in turn led to reduced attendance figures. Soon the fan base was reduced to paid attendance of just over 6,000 per game. In 2002 Major League Baseball would seal the fate of the team by allowing Loria to sell the Expos back to the other 29 owners while he bought the Florida Marlins. With no clear front office and the other teams allowed to decide what players could be signed and to what amounts the team hit a record low. Major League Baseball determined that baseball was no longer feasible in Montreal and announced that the team would relocate to Washington DC beginning in 2004. The final two seasons in Montreal saw the team play half their home games in Puerto Rico and half in Canada. The fan base had given up hope and seldom would they show up to the games.

To commemorate the Montreal Expos storied history and to pay tribute to the one die hard fan still left in Montreal, I have deemed today Montreal Expo Fan Appreciation night at Chase Field. While I have not announced this previously nor have I talked to the Diamondbacks about putting this on the JumboTron to celebrate, word has obviously gone out. Attendance to this series against Washington is 30 percent lower than it has been for any other series. The Diamondbacks players are obviously excited about this promotion as they didn’t show up last night for the game at least the bullpen didn’t. The concessionaires at Chase Field have also gotten into the spirit of things by increasing the prices and reducing the portion sizes so you feel just like your Canadian counterparts. I think it would also be good to display the statistics of all the players we traded away who have gone on to have great seasons for their new teams while the Diamondbacks flounder to stay out of the NL West cellar. All we need now is a new ownership group to take over who will bad-mouth the franchise players, change the uniform logos and team colors, and make demands of the stadium district or else they will begin selling off established players. Oh wait never mind. So for you Pierre Leblanc, diehard Expos fan I salute you and remind you that there are only 24 more days until the Montreal Canadians play the Buffalo Sabres and the 2006 hockey season has officially started.

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