By Dave Kaufman for Montreal Gazette
It was eight years ago today. Eight years since the last game in Montreal Expos history. Oct. 3, 2004: an 8-1 loss to the Mets in New York. Yet according to the traditions of professional baseball, “Nos Amours” are still very much alive. They’re just someone else’s beloveds.
The franchise that played in our city from 1969 to 2004 lives on as the Washington Nationals. The Nats are currently the odds-on favourite to win the World Series, their first in “franchise history.”
As per the traditions of Major League Baseball, the Nationals share all historical stats with the Expos. While the city and uniform may have changed, other things have not. Vladimir Guerrero has the most home runs in franchise history, and Steve Rogers has the most innings pitched.
When the Nationals clinched a playoff position two weeks ago, many were quick to point out that this would be the first playoff appearance by the franchise since the Expos in 1981. Blue Monday, anyone?
In a desperate attempt to fool myself, I took to social media and repeated the maxim: They’re not our team. They’re not the Expos. I’ve been saying that since George W. Bush threw out their opening-day pitch at RFK Stadium in 2005.
And yet they kind of are. Along with sharing their stats with Montreal, they have a “Ring of Honour” at Nationals Park that pays tribute to some of the greats who have played baseball in D.C., both Major Leaguers and Negro Leaguers, with a special place set aside for the two Hall of Fame-inducted Expos: Andre Dawson and Gary Carter. The Nationals seem proud to share in the achievements of the Expos. And yet I don’t know one Montrealer who is genuinely excited to see them make a playoff run.
When the playoffs start this coming weekend, we’ll hear more reminders that they used to be in Montreal. TV reports, radio panels, newspaper columns: it’ll be hard to escape. For myself and many others, there will be an underlying sadness and yearning for what could have been.
And this yearning raises a good question: Is there any way that we might be able to channel these emotions into a positive force that will one day bring a team back to Montreal?
The answer, I believe, is yes, and the model to emulate is Seattle and what that city did when it lost its National Basketball Association franchise.
Seattle’s beloved Supersonics left to become the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008. The Sonics left under a cloud of darkness, their relationship as frayed with the NBA as ours became (and still is) with Major League Baseball. Seattle never gave up, though, and fans never stopped applying pressure.
They also made a movie about it. The award-winning documentary Sonicsgate was created by two heartbroken Seattle basketball fans who wanted the world to know that their city had been done wrong, held hostage by the corporate greed that characterizes professional sports. With a few changed names, Seattle’s story could very easily be ours.
The movie has made noise. The two filmmakers have done national media appearances, and CNBC has picked up the television rights. Fans have organized large rallies and brought back Sonics greats to appear at them. When Oklahoma City made the NBA finals last season, Seattle fans were right there — not to support their former franchise, but to remind everyone that it should have been the Sonics.
Last week, Seattle announced that it has approved construction of a new arena. It has found a local businessman who is committed to bringing a team back. The people of Seattle have never given up hope, and now their dream is close to coming to fruition.
Why not us? Montreal is the largest city in North America without baseball. With a stable owner and the proper infrastructure, there is no reason that Major League Baseball wouldn’t be an unbridled success here.
In the meantime, our franchise is headed to the playoffs. Heartbreaking? Absolutely. I wish I could feel differently, but there will be no celebrating, and no champagne, in Montreal.
And yet the resolve is strengthened with each Nationals win. We need our Expos back.
Time to make a documentary.