Archive for the ‘Montreal’ Category

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Hat tip to Bluebird Banter for this one, as they’ve spotted a report from Montreal’s 98,5 Sports that says a tentative agreement has been set, and that evenko will once again be opening up the doors to le Stade Olympique, as the Jays will face off with Canada’s own Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds for two games next spring.

It’s a hell of a bit of great news to come today, on the 20th anniversary of the beginning of the strike that led to the cancellation of the 1994 season — in which, of course, the Expos were running away with the NL East and certain to win the World Series (or whatever revisionist history we allow ourselves to believe about it). This year’s event was positively magical.

It’s also maybe a bit weird, though, given the massive support that Jays fans on the west coast are right this fucking minute showing for the team down in Seattle, as they learn that the hope of bringing spring training games to BC Place has been spurned, at least for another year.

And that’s especially disappointing, I’d wager, since it’s been less than two weeks since reports arose suggesting the Vancouver Canadians were looking into ways to bring a Blue Jays exhibition to the city.

From Metronews.ca:

Vancouver Canadians president Andy Dunn, speaking on Team 1040 radio on Thursday, said it’s something the local club is looking at. The C’s are the short-season Single-A affiliate of the Blue Jays, Canada’s lone Major League Baseball team.

There’s one major obstacle, however, at the recently renovated BC Place and that is the new video board, Dunn told the Vancouver sports radio station.

. . .

“We’re going to be sending some guys down there in the coming weeks. We’re actually going to go hit in the place and just find out how big a factor that video board comes into play. And if it doesn’t come into play, hopefully that’s something we’ll definitely be working on and bringing some exhibition games to BC Place.”

One supposes the Jays could do a series both cities — it would certainly be a revenue win, a win for the brand, and it’s not like they’d be leaving behind a palace in Dunedin to do it — but that’s a lot of travel. And if it’s just one that can be done, it looks like Montreal is it, for now.

Hard to blame the Jays, as the 98,5 Sports report says (translated from French), that the Pittsburgh Pirates were in talks about being the Jays’ opponents, and that, in fact, several teams reportedly wanted a part of the action following the success of this year’s series.

Of course, at that time I wrote about the excitement for baseball’s big return to the Big O, while at the same time fearing when “the dubious hand of Rogers starts milking it, year after year, for all it’s worth until it’s fucked to death, like you and I both know that they will.” Is this the beginning of that? Maybe not if Vancouver finds a way to accommodate some games. And even if it is, round two in Montreal next spring? Fucking right, that still sounds awesome!

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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!

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We don’t usually do post-game posts around here, but we don’t usually do games as special as the one that just concluded in Montreal, either. Not entirely sure why I’m doing it – or sitting in the press box, frankly (and on a number of levels on that one) — except to prove that I haven’t succumbed to alcohol poisoning just yet, and also because it was a hell of an experience this evening, watching baseball in this sprawling weirdo mid-70s womb disguised as public art that, despite the description, feels an awful lot like the Rogers Centre, even while being thirteen years its senior.

The press box was a strange place for me to take this one in, and not because of the constant poor stifling of groans — because I am, of course, first and foremost, a pseudo-professional — and not even because you couldn’t hear the Public Address system. It was because you really only got a narrow feeling of what was going on out there in the crowd — one that didn’t tell the whole story.

Sitting here earlier in the game I sketched out a version of this post, and at the time I wrote that “the fans got very up for the Bautista knock (also: some dumb Rolaids promotion), which, combined with the many… certainly not half-hearted, but not-always-entirely-realized attempts at Let’s Go Expos chants, suggested that maybe this was more a traveling crowd of Jays fans or people with closer ties to Toronto than here,” but walking around the concourse, I can tell you now that was way off.

Maybe it was just the strangeness of cheering for a non-entity that stifled some of that particular type of exuberance. Perhaps it was the stark reality of the economic difficulties of bringing a team back here — something the fans I spoke to were not just fully aware of, but seemed jaded by… which is obviously not difficult to understand — that dampened some of the straight-up nostalgia factor. Or it could simply have been the sound where I was sitting. But it was something, and it was strange.

And it was great.

As I traversed the concourse in the later innings of the game it was evident that this wasn’t simply an Ontario crowd. People spoke French, and they wore Expos gear, and they rose in unison to cheer their hearts out for the Blue Jays as Ricardo Nanita pushed Munenoi Kawasaki across the plate with a walk-off single.

Weird, huh?

I’m not saying anyone was necessarily converted, but there was definitely no polite taking-in-of-the-action or sitting back and letting the “real Jays fans” from Ontario lead the cheers. There was no mistaking the statement: We like this. We want this.

Maybe it didn’t start out like such a rush of a finish was coming — the crowd was fidgety in the early going, it felt, looking for the right psychic angle with which to approach this event, and waiting restlessly for something to happen — but by the end they got there. The Mets led 4-2 going into the bottom of the seventh, and just as I slipped quietly into a seat on the 500 level of the stadium, underneath throngs of fans, filling the upper bowl to the very top most of the way around, Edwin Encarnacion crushed a double to right field that sent my new section in a frenzy.

And maybe it was that frenzy, in and of itself, that was the lure — the atmosphere, the stadium with its strange shapes, long dead zones, intermittent clouds of marijuana smoke, and rowdy young men in unpatrolled washrooms sharing stalls, snorting cocaine, and rushing back to the thrilling game unfolding within the mania.

I’m hardly saying that the whole stadium was coked to the gills — I’m only even just guessing about those guys I encountered — but in here, if you’re interested in painting with such broad strokes about dangerous charms, it was definitely the Montreal to Toronto’s Rogers Centre, if you know what I mean. And there definitely were many Expos chants. And plenty of Toronto fans. But the way it mixed and rose to a fever pitch with the spectacle of baseball — even just preseason baseball — as the backdrop was a hell of a thing to watch. And, in those times in the stands when I slipped my media lanyard inside my sweatshirt and sipped on a beer, to take part in.

In crass terms it was a clear marketing win for the Jays, if nothing else, and a tremendous feel-good moment for the fans of Montreal. If we allow in ourselves the kind of indulgence that this whole weekend is begging for, we could say that it was something even more, but why? It didn’t need to be more. It was — surprisingly, astonishingly — not unlike Canada-USA at the Rogers Centre back in 2009, and just as clear who the home team was. Maybe I’m making too much of that aspect — maybe I’m reading it entirely wrong — but, whatever it was, shit it was fun.

The Big O Turf Looks OK, Weird

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Interesting shot here by way of @BlueJays, showing tomorrow’s starter Brandon Morrow, as well as Drew Hutchison and an unidentified third party, checking out the turf at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, where Mark Buehrle will take the hill tonight against Jenrry Mejia and the Mets. Tomorrow’s opponent for Morrow is, at least according to MLB.com, undetermined. In other words, there’s still time for a last minute appearance of Noah Syndergaard, throwing to Travis d’Arnaud, in the ultimate [note: not really] troll job.

Probably not going to happen, though.

Actually, holy shit! Saturday’s starter for the Metropolitans? Yeah… it’s Dice-K. Well that should be insufferable.

And what an embarrassment it would be if the Stade Olympique turf looked better than the garbage bags at the Rogers Centre, eh? I think we’re probably safe on that front though. Probably.

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A forlorn Brad Wilkerson exits the field with Claude Raymond following the final Expos home game in 2004.

I sure as hell am happy to take this excuse to go party in Montreal for the weekend, as are, I’m confident, a veritable metric shit-tonne of Ontarians who are also making the trip down the 401 — or, in cases like mine, the Quebec-Windsor corridor — in order to revel in nostalgia for a team they didn’t ever really care as much about as they want to believe they did.

Holy shit, that’s cynical!

But I do count myself among those, and do look forward to genuine enthusiasm for the sport that we’ll both bring and be surrounded by this weekend, as Montrealers open up their arms to our team and dream big about what might lay ahead for them, if ever the numerous and not-insignificant obstacles that stand in the way of that aspiration are somehow surmounted.

Sorry if that sounds like I’m pissing on the parade a little bit — fuck me, and at the joyous apex of it to boot! — but as much as I think a return of Les Expos would be a great, great thing — not only for a jewel of a city that has certainly shown (albeit not while being dicked around at the end) that it can support it, but for baseball in Canada, and baseball in general — in the back of my mind I can’t help but think of Hamilton’s doomed courting of the NHL, and other eager, team-less cities simply being used as leverage by ownership groups looking to extract public money for stadium projects in the places they actually want to be.

Paul Beeston says that he believes he’ll see a team return to Montreal in his lifetime, which, since he’s entirely full of shit, doesn’t exactly bode well.

The hope is that it doesn’t go that way, of course, and Montreal at least knows that their only current MLB-sized facility is entirely unable to host games on a regular basis, and that the stadium issue looms large over any remotely realistic discussion of this project ever actually coming to fruition — as does the whole in-excess-of-a-billion-dollars-of-someone-else’s-money thing — but… well… supporters there can want it all they want, making it happen is a different thing.

But I don’t think I’m telling anybody anything they don’t know, and the other side of this coin is, without the conviction and the passion of the fans there, they don’t have any hope of a team returning. The fact that this is even a conversation so soon after the departure of the team for Washington D.C. in 2005 is itself beyond remarkable — an effort worth celebrating perhaps as much as the great players and the great teams of the past we’ll see feted this weekend, and a testament to the near-universal feeling that Montreal is truly a special place, and that the game deserves the city as much as the city deserves it.

Getting a bit maudlin here, but I suppose that’s appropriate given everything that this weekend represents. It’s the celebration of a dream, and of the rekindling of foggy memories that no one was ever really ready to let go. That itself is seems reason enough to shelve the sort of cynicism I started this piece with, about phoniness, grim realities, bullshit and economics. For a lot of people it isn’t phony in the slightest, and if this all goes off the way it should, right now — before the dubious hand of Rogers starts milking it, year after year, for all it’s worth until it’s fucked to death, like you and I both know that they will — I’m happy just to bask in that for a bit. And then go get shitfaced and do it again tomorrow, bleary-eyed, dry-mouthed, and uninterested in being anywhere in the world other than where I exactly am.

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Between yesterday’s flurry of rumours and my sudden and severe Winter Meetings fatigue I wasn’t able to get around to posting about this, but I absolutely will today, because it’s not often that the biggest name in the baseball business world throws his weight behind bringing the game back to the city of Montreal. But that is, I think, a fair characterization of über-agent Scott Boras, and indeed what he did yesterday.

Maybe don’t go jumping for joy just yet though, Montreal– unless it’s simply for the unrelated fact that you’re Montreal, and therefore awesome, with or without baseball– because it’s not exactly like he was Mussolini at the balcony (too soon?) demanding that baseball be brought back post haste.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that someone of his stature in the game would suggest that it’s viable. I just think that if you look at the full extent of what he said that his passion about it wasn’t quite as strong as it appears in the following clip…

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Naturally, following a deal yesterday that shifts the entire Canadian TV landscape, there has been a whole lot of speculation about just what the hell the heavily hockey-dependent TSN, who have been frozen out of the incoming 12-year national NHL TV and digital media rights deal, might have to do as they search for content in the wake of such a large loss to their main competition.

For example, Morgan Campbell wrote about the potential challenges today for the Toronto Star, noting that additional basketball coverage could certainly be an option for the network during the winter months, though the audience for the NBA– and its lone Canadian franchise– will be dwarfed by the numbers pulled in for their competitors’ hockey package.

Interestingly, though, Campbell cites one of that network’s main strengths:

TSN has a strong track record of developing sports properties into strong national brands. Under TSN’s direction, the world junior hockey championship has developed into Canada’s equivalent of the NCAA’s March Madness — the highest-profile, highest-stakes competition for the best amateurs in the sport.

The network has also been the exclusive broadcaster of CFL games since 2008, building that league into a powerful television franchise. Last year’s Grey Cup drew 5.8 million viewers, and this season’s Western final was the country’s most-viewed sports event two weekends ago, outranking Hockey Night in Canada.

Doubly interestingly, it’s not just TSN who faces this predicament, of course, but their French language counterpart, RDS. And if you read the title of this post, you already know where this is going…

While it may not be winter programming to counter what Rogers and their new partners will be offering, uh… there’s one idea that could prove rather intriguing, and that Jon Morosi, Keith Law, and Jonah Keri got to talking about yesterday on Twitter (which, for some reason, I’ve Storify’d below!):

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