Its hard to find a picture of me from about 7 or younger where I wasn't wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat. My dad is a big redbirds fans and I followed suit. Dreaming of someday pitching for the Cardinals and posing for pics for my baseball card like John Tudor and Bruce Sutter. (Fun fact my Grandfather on my Mom's side was drafted by the Cardinals once upon a time.)
The first baseball game I ever went to was in Montreal as the Expos hosted the Cardinals. We went up quite a bit when the Cards were in town. But this first one was memorable because I got in to it with Expos mascot Youppi. We had seats near the Expos dugout and he snatched my Dad's Cardinals hat and I gave chase and was angry. Then he grabbed an Expos hat from someone else and then held each up and get the crowd involved. I cooled quickly as Youppi was so nice he returned my dads hat to his head inside out. I later bought a stuffed animal of Youppi and waved my Cardinals pennant anyway.
It was my first memorable moment with a mascot and it was cool for so many reasons.
A) I'd go on to become an Expos fan and tout how great Youppi is. In fact after the Expos moved to DC Youppi got a gig across town as the mascot of the Canadiens. Perfect!
B) I'd later do a fair bit of mascot-ting myself including in High School and at UVM once getting to storm the court on ESPN (another full story could be done about these moments)
C) It was where I truly fell in love with the game. The atmosphere, the athleticism... it may have not been a Wrigley or Fenway type of experience but it was the closest to home for me.
Over the years as I grew I started to make some of my own calls on favorite squads. I started to rock the tri-colored Expos hats everywhere and mimicked plays in the front yard where Tim Wallach would field a grounder and toss to Vance Law who would spin it to the Big Cat Andres Galarraga for the double play. I got to see several of their games on CTV or CBC because we got those Canadian channels on our cable so it was easy to keep up with them. This was the 80's before NESN, before MLB.tv... before most even had more than 12 channels.
We went to games often deciding last minute to go up to a game was not really much of a problem ticket wise. Although the hour and a half drive might be two depending on traffic and an easy border check-in (they were all easy then). Over the years I lost track of every ticket I ever had but I still have some in my ticket album. I got to see all the greats of the 80's and 90's... that were in the National League for that matter. I remember being at the game when Tony Gwynn got his 3,000th hit.
Sure the stadium wasn't awesome and the crowds were at times apathetic but this was my team. In the late 80's early 90's the team was quite good. It featured guys like Pedro Martinez, Moises Alou, Larry Walker, Ken Hill, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd most of whom would go on to win World Series with other teams... but I digress... After posting a 74-40 record in 1994 the infamous MLB strike happened, wiping out that season. That's right kids, before Corona Virus there were strikes and lockouts that ended seasons. That effectively ended baseball in Montreal. Not technically but it was the beginning of the end.
Crippled financially by the strike the Expos found it hard to keep players. They came back the next season without Grissom, Hill, and Walker and slipped to last place in the division in '95 going 66-78... Yeah, they won more games the prior season than in 48 more games the following season!
From there seasons came and went, with the Expos being basically a Triple A team in the majors. If we had a good player we didn't have him long before off they'd go to another team. I mean we got 8 seasons out of Vlad Guerrero, which was one of the only reasons to watch the Expos during that run. But mostly they didn't do much until 2002.
The team finished 2nd in the NL East with Vlad, Jose Vidro, Brad Wilkerson, a returned but old Andres Galarraga, Orlando Cabrera at Short and a pitching staff that included a 29-year old Bartolo Colon, Javier Vazquez and Tomo Ohka. They were solid but not quite there yet. The next season they put up the same record but it was only good for 4th in their division. The writing had been on the wall for a long time that the Expos run in Montreal was coming to a close.
I got tickets to the last home game of 2003 just in case it was the Expos last season. It wasn't but going in to 2004 we knew this was it. I once again got tickets for the final Expos home game. It was bitter sweet. Fans were allowed on the field pregame to meet players of the past and current. I still have my signed hat from that day. Later after unveiling a banner for being the best team in baseball in 1994, Ken Hill threw some autographed baseballs in the stands and I caught one! I still have that too! The Expos lost and there were many fans crying and people were upset when they left.
Just 10 years earlier they had been the best team in baseball and now they were off to Washington DC.
I remember I went alone. I drove home in mostly silence and occasional tear going down my face and landing on my Expos jersey. This was last of many journeys to Montreal for baseball. It is still the last day I went up for baseball even 16 years later.
In the time after this I wasn't exactly sure what to do with my baseball fandom. What are you supposed to do when your squad leaves? It wasn't their fault baseball died in Montreal. Lots of factors went in to that.
I decided to stay with the franchise for 2 key reasons.
1) They still had the same players, the same legendary manager Frank Robinson, they were the Expos in an American package... which is sort of me.
2) Brad Wilkerson. He was one of my favorite players and is known as "The Last Expo" because he wore the Expos jersey that off-season in some overseas all-star games and was the last to do so. When the Nats started up that first season Brad ended up playing with a rookie 3rd baseman named Ryan Zimmerman. A man now know as Mr. National. After 15 seasons of trying Zim and the boys finally won the World Series in 2019 and my take on that is yet another full blog waiting to happen.
Rumbles over the past few seasons are of a comeback for baseball to Montreal. They've hosted pre-season games and made a solid case for getting the band back together. This season the Tampa Rays were even supposed to play half of their games in Montreal. Oddly that's how the Expos last season ended as they split time in Puerto Rico.
I still wear my Expos stuff to this day. I've since allowed the Milwaukee Brewers in to my baseball heart from my time living in Milwaukee, but my favs order will always have the Montreal Expos first. Nationals 2nd and then the Brew Crew.
You can't help but have that inner sense that they are my home team. I grew up watching them, emulating them... being from northwestern Vermont this was the closest thing I had to a home team. And even in my all-time favorite teams list The Expos sit 3rd Behind the Denver Broncos and Montreal Canadiens and just ahead of the Orlando Magic... even despite not having fielded a team since 1994 when I said good-bye.
Hey I don't know what this was. It was a brief history of the Expos mixed with my love for 'em... sometimes a dude just needs to blow of steam about his unrequited love for a ball team that is gone. I celebrated the Nats WS victory as if it was an Expos victory. I understand for most it wasn't, but for me it was the same franchise I had stuck with... that never won anything. And there they were. World Series Champions. While others scoffed when earlier that year the Nats donned the Expos throwbacks, I found it comforting and fitting that they wore them during their championship season!
If they come back someday I'll be there for game 1 and hopefully never again for their final game. I love the Montreal Expos, and if you do to, join the many baseball fans in Montreal trying to get it going again! So many people on Facebook a huge group, Twitter... go find and support the return of the Expos in anyway you can. Montreal deserves a new stadium with the old squad name up in there! Then trips to Montreal in the summer would be more than just drinking on Saint Catherine's Street, 24 hour go-karts, and hitting the casino. Wait... that sounds pretty dope. Who's up for a ride north?! Is Canada open yet?