Any baseball fan living in the Montreal area in 2004 remembers where he, or she, was 10 years ago today. After years of decline on and off the field due to many reasons, Major League Baseball relocated the franchise to Washington, DC.
After the disappointment of 1994, when the players’ strike shortened a season that surely would have seen Nos Amours go deep into the playoffs, owner Jeffrey Loria purchased a controlling interest in the team in 1999 from Claude Brochu. Loria seemed to do everything in his power for the Expos to fail in Montreal. He failed to close the deal on a new downtown ballpark, a definite must for the team’s long term viability. He failed to reach agreements on television and English radio broadcast for the 2000 season, reducing the team’s media visibility and depriving the team’s fans across the Montreal area of the opportunity to follow their favourite players.
It’s lucky for the Expos that, in 2002, Major League Baseball was obliged to field a team in the Metrodome in Minnesota. Failing that, both the Expos and the Twins would have been eliminated. Because of the complexities of scheduling a 162 game season for each MLB team, both teams on the chopping block were given a reprieve.
In December 2002 the MLB ownership shuffle took place. The Marlins’ John W. Henry purchased the Boston Redsox. The Expos’ Jeffrey Loria purchased the Florida Marlins and Major League Baseball purchased the Expos, unable to reduce the number of teams in the league before 2006 per the collective bargaining agreement signed with the Players Association in August 2002.
On September 29, 2004 MLB announced the franchise would relocate to Washington for the 2005 season, ending a thirty five year love affair between Montreal and Nos Amours. The final score that night in the final game in Montreal was unimportant. What was important, for the more than 31 000 fans in attendance including myself, was the chance to cheer for Nos Amours one more time. Many stayed long after the game was over, looking around the stadium nostalgically one last time.
Ten years later, baseball is still vibrant in Montreal. Baseball Quebec, the dominant youth baseball federation in the province of Quebec, would likely tell you it is a struggle to attract new players to baseball as would the leaders in Little League Quebec. It hasn’t been easy. Both federations are doing an admirable job.
Yesterday in NDG, ExposNation, Derek Aucoin, Easton, and NDG Minor Baseball hosted a very successful 2nd annual Pitch and Catch Rally at Loyola Park. Approximately 100 kids of all ages were given the chance to hit off former Major Leaguer Derek Aucoin for two hours. The number of ball players, people in Expos gear, and media in attendance clearly shows the interest in baseball at the highest levels is still here.
Now, if those 100 kids could invite two friends to play baseball with them next year, and those two friends invite two friends to play baseball with them next year, and so on and so on… the art of baseball will be that much stronger in 2015 and for years to come.