You’d think that surely there must come a point when there is only so much sentimentality that one can stomach, but this afternoon’s matchup between the Jays and the Mets here was yet another tremendous feel-good exercise — especially with the 1994 Expos in the house, and 50,000 fans, bringing the stunning two-day total for le retour du baseball majeur à Montréal to over 96,000 — completing a storybook finish to the first step towards making a reality the big dream of bringing baseball back to this city.
I wrote yesterday that “without the conviction and the passion of the fans there, they don’t have any hope of a team returning,” and over the weekend these folks showed that they are certainly no trifling band of diehards. The city came out again Saturday, full-throated and fully regaled, eager to once again support the team loaned to them for the weekend. Of course, like last night there were vast numbers of Blue Jays fans, too — though. with a road trip as an excuse to overindulge, many were likely worse for the wear … not that I’d know anything about that — but even though it was their team on the field, this wasn’t about them at all.
It was about the appetite for baseball in this city — even in this crumbling facility. And that appetite — aided, perhaps just a little, by MLB’s current problem markets, and thoughts of overflowing toilets in the Oakland Coliseum, and the sparse crowds we’ll see next week in Tampa Bay — shone through unmistakably.
Making it extra special was the fact that it wasn’t necessarily a given that this worn out old dome — what last night I called a “sprawling weirdo mid-70s womb disguised as public art” — would turn into such a revivalist carnival.
I can’t say what, exactly, I expected would come out of this little adventure. I don’t really think I thought much about it, to tell you the honest truth — even if, like everyone, the spectre of the grim demise of the Expos lurked in the back of my mind — but when I did, it certainly wasn’t this. Not at the ecstatic levels to which it hit.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that these were about as perfect a two games as any loaned team could have possibly provided a screeching throng of fans desperate to show their feelings for the sport.
OK, so maybe the first parts of both games were slightly interminable, and maybe Brandon Morrow was spottier on the hill today than his sparkling line – 5.2IP, 0R, 2H, 2BB, 8K — suggests. But from Munenori Kawasaki’s winning run, to Melky Cabrera continuing a torrid spring with a two-run home run, finally giving the fans something in-game to get out of their seats for, to Aaron Sanchez coming of age before our very eyes with two perfect innings to end it, you simply couldn’t have written it better.
For most of the fans here in Monreal, Sanchez probably could have been anyone. For us, though, what a performance. What poise! Striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth with 50,000 fans screaming at him in unison, mixing up pitches and displaying an ability to command that we have so far only been able to dream on.
And Cabrera looking like the player we hoped we were getting last year (and then some)? The bullpen looking spectacular-as-usual? Morrow looking better than we’ve seen — or heard about — all spring, doing about all that he could to erase the questions that have been hanging over him since the start of camp? And Encarnacion being right back into the lineup after being hit on the hand yesterday? And Jose Reyes patrolling the turf at shortstop so soon after his latest hamstring scare?
It was pretty damn perfect for us, too.
Not entirely perfect all around, of course — I’d be remiss if I glossed over the fact that a man was gravely injured in a fall from the bleachers following last night’s game, or that getting into the facility, and to it on the Metro, proved a logistical nightmare (almost like the location of the stadium here is a major issue) — but in the grand sense, there was far more that was wonderful and good than there was unfortunate and bad, at least in my experience. And while it’s a shame to see big league baseball once again packing up now to leave this city, its future here indeterminate, this time it actually feels right. This time it feels honest-to-goodness hopeful. And that’s all that anybody could have asked of this weekend.
Vive les Expos!