Baseball and Montréal have had a rather confusing relationship over the past 25 years. Montreal has been historically the home the Montreal Expos, but after the infamous strike of 1994, the local interest in hosting an MLB franchise decreased. In 2004, the team packed up and moved to Washington – and yes that means Bryce Harper could have been in a Expos uniform in some alternate history. Sadly that is not the reality of things. Instead, the La Belle Province has been left with no major or minor league teams, leaving the province void of baseball.
What seems to be a glimmer of hope in Montréal is the Blue Jays annual exhibition games played at the former home of the Expos, Olympic Stadium. The stadium is not per-se the most ideal baseball venue as its dome-like structure is reminiscent of an ugly Tropicana Stadium in Tampa. Nonetheless, Olympic Stadium is still full of history with a great location adjacent to beautiful downtown Montreal.
While the Jays just finished their fifth series in Montréal, this series was a bit different this time around. This was the first time a series was featured on a weeknight at Olympic Stadium, making this a true test for the Montréal faithful. The average attendance for a game over the first 4 series was roughly around 48 000 fans. However, during this year’s two-game series, the attendance was a combined 51 000 – half the size of previous games.
A number of factors can contribute to the problem itself. For one the game was played on a weeknight, not necessarily easy for those who work full time or baseball fans outside of the city to attend the game. The second being the roster itself. The Blue Jays are not the star-studded team it used to be. The Vegas win projection is only 81.5 games which is only good enough for 4th in the AL East. No to mention rotation stars like Tulowitzki and Josh Donaldson are currently on the DL. Lastly, it does not help when ticket prices increase for weeknight games. All these factors bring into the question of the annual spring showcase in Montreal.
As someone who experienced the Jays in Montréal for the second time, this past Monday, I can tell you that the fans may be few in numbers but the fans were certainly more passionate this year than last year. The fans were loud, they were proud and they want their team back; it’s as simple as that.
Currently, the unattractive stadium, ownership, and lack of support from the new mayor do not bode well for the advancement of baseball in Montreal. As the years go on, however, the popularity of baseball in Canada continues to grow. There is hope for the eventual return of a baseball team in Montréal despite the current situation. One solution could be the Jays hosting a weekend series during the regular season in 2019 around the June 24 Québec holiday. Another stepping-stone could be the relocation of one of the Minor League teams. For the meantime, Montreal is still at least 5 years away from getting any chance at a Major League team. So for all you Expo fanatics screaming about not having a team, please calm down, relax, shut up, and just enjoy this season and everything it holds.