Thursday 14 April 2011

Professional baseball returning to Montreal?

The recent Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Sports Celebrity Breakfast, for which I was one of the organizers, honoured former Montreal Expos limited partner Mark Routtenberg. There were 650 cheering baseball fans on hand that morning. It was the Expos team of 1994 that was in the spotlight. In attendance was that team's manager, Felipe Alou; pitchers Pedro Martinez, John Wetteland, Mel Rojas and Denis Boucher; outfielders Rondell White and Marquis Grissom; and first baseman Cliff Floyd. (Pictured above is myself, my dad Larry, Charles André Marchand of CKAC Radio, rapper Annakin Slayd and former Expo John Wetteland at the Sports Breakfast)

There was so much enthusiasm in the room for the return of professional baseball that I mentioned several times how our city could indeed support a minor league pro squad. The Can-Am League is very successful and a team in Quebec has thrived there for years. I looked over at Routtenberg and said that he was the logical person to lead this initiative.

Well, the suggestion has snowballed. Routtenberg has already been in touch with the commissioner of the Can-Am League, Miles Wolfe (below) and plans to meet with him in person. It appears as if White and Floyd might be willing to invest in a franchise. Another former Expo, Warren Cromartie, emailed to remind everyone that he too has been working on such an initiative. Add former Expos broadcaster and one-time prospect Marc Griffin, who wants a Can-Am team on the South Shore.

The stumbling block is the absence of an appropriate stadium that can hold up to 5,000 fans. Forget about the Big Owe. That is not even a possibility. If Premier Jean Charest is willing to contribute $200 million of our dollars for a new hockey arena in Quebec City, then he sure should hand over a tiny fraction of that amount for a nice, outdoor baseball stadium. Ditto for Montreal Mayor Gérald Tremblay, who could use some good publicity at this time.

Where to put the stadium? The former Blue Bonnets/Hippodrome Raceway on Decarie would be ideal. However, after the U2 concerts this summer we should begin hearing stories about multi-million dollar housing development options.

The most simple option? Simply renovate the Centre Claude Robillard Stadium in Ahuntsic, which served as the home of the Montreal Impact soccer team for years. It would probably cost the least amount of money, already has the stands, facilities and parking.

Let's bring pro ball back to this city!

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