A familiar notice recently circulated through the Montreal media: “Still plenty of tickets available in Montreal for the Blue Jays’ visit to play the New York Mets March 28-29.”
It’s a familiar tune, though one that hasn’t been heard in more than 10 years —when the Expos left Montreal and moved to Washington, D.C.
Plenty of tickets available for a baseball game.
A movement is underway in Montreal to bring major league baseball back to the city, and these two exhibition games, to be played in the baseball graveyard known as Olympic Stadium, are part of that effort — to send a message to MLB that it should bring the game back.
According to the Canadian Baseball Network, they have sold 68,000 total tickets for both games, and they expect to be sold out. But “there are good seats still available.”
Funny, former Expo Warren Cromartie, who is helping lead the effort to bring baseball back to Montreal told the Boston Globe in October they had already sold 50,000 tickets.
Look, I come not to bury Montreal. It’s a city I fell in love with when I would go up there every September for about five years to write about the death of the Expos.
But don’t do this. Don’t spend people’s time and money with committees and feasibility studies and meaningless exhibitions games as a declaration of the city’s commitment to baseball, because it will last for years, probably decades. You’ll waste perhaps millions of dollars begging baseball to return, and you’ll wind up disappointed time after time, as if the Expos were leaving all over again.
Don’t be patsy for Major League Baseball.
You don’t need baseball. You have one of the greatest cities in the world, with so much to offer its residents.
Don’t set yourself up to be used and abused.
Washington has walked in your shoes before — feasibility studies conducted, investor groups formed, rallies held, exhibition games played — for 33 years, while baseball built stadiums on the back of the city in San Francisco, Seattle, Houston and Pittsburgh.
Only when a baseball team became so economically unviable that it was no longer tolerable — that team, by the way, being the Montreal Expos — did the game return for the first time since the Senators left Washington after the 1971 season.
That’s 33 years. Montreal, that means your children will likely have children who will be going to exhibition games in the city — if there is any place to play baseball by then (Olympic Stadium is falling apart) — trying to prove to baseball that the city is worthy of a major league team.
Maybe by then they’ll be helping build Camden Yards II in Baltimore.
After the November owners meeting, baseball commissioner Bud Selig told reporters that the two-game series between the Blue Jays and Mets was “wonderful” and added that Blue Jays president “Paul Beeston and I had a conversation, and I think it’s great, I really do.”
Selig went on to say that he was “paying close attention to it.”
Are you listening, politicians in Tampa-St. Pete and Oakland-San Jose? You hear that? That’s the sound of a stalking horse to threaten to move your baseball teams if you don’t deliver on new ballparks — and any other city in the next 20 years that may determine it’s time for a new home.
We’re not far away from another wave of ballpark construction — the Braves are leaving their ballpark, built for the 1996 Olympics and opening in 1997, for a new ballpark in the suburbs.
Selig also told reporters that, “Listen, this comes from them, not from us. … We don’t have any clubs moving and we certainly don’t have any expansion plans. I give them a lot of credit, there are people up there who really believe in this and good for them. I think it’s great.”
Don’t be fools. Baseball isn’t moving a team to Montreal.
The ballpark costs would be beyond prohibitive there — and, if we are talking long into the future, a cost figure that we can’t even come close to predicting.
And you’ll have to pay for the whole thing — every penny. You’ll have to do what Washington did to take your team — make baseball an offer it couldn’t refuse. For Washington, that was a $600 million fully financed ballpark agreement back in 2005.
I know that Montreal is a different city economically than it was during the dark, final years of the Expos. But this is a financial commitment that usually accompanies an entity or venture that is absolutely vital to the city — part of its fabric.
Despite the history of baseball in Montreal — the minor league Montreal Royals, where Jackie Robinson played, and the good years of the Expos in the 1980s — and despite the circumstances that helped ruin the franchise, such as the 1994 baseball strike and poor ownership, baseball is not the national pastime. It’s not a body part of the city.
Those circumstances and poor ownership don’t explain the invisibility of the team on the city landscape in those final years. You could walk the city for blocks and not find any evidence there was a major league baseball team in the city. It wasn’t unusual to ask a cab driver about the Expos and him have no clue what you were talking about.
I say all this because I care. Montreal, you are about to embark on a painful, lengthy process that will only end in heartbreak.
You don’t need that. You’re Montreal.
• Thom Loverro is co-host of “The Sports Fix,” noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio and espn980.com
• Thom Loverro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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