Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Professional baseball returning to Montreal...for two days

Nine years after the Montreal Expos left town for good,baseball fans got some encouraging news on September 10 via the folks at evenko, which announced  that   a two-game pre-season series between the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets will take place at Olympic Stadium on March 28 and 29.

No, we are not getting a big league team back here. The Montreal Baseball Project and ExposNation continue to work hard on that front. But as local broadcaster and PR guru Matthew Ross, the man behind ExposNation, shared with me this is an opportunity. Major League Baseball will indeed be watching closely and if crowds of 30,000 plus attend eachj game it will send home a very important message. My brother Chuck suggested that the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays be invited to Montreal to see the game and move their team here.

Alex Anthopoulos
I must say that there was a very nostalgic feeling as I walked on to what used to be the Expos playing field. There were some youngsters in baseball uniforms, a patch of artificial turf and both the inning by inning and diamond vision scoreboards in operation. Journalists were treated to hotdogs, chips and popcorn. We were told that this event, initiated by evenko, was actually two years in the making.

I had the chance to interview Town of Mount Royal native Alex Anthopoulos, the very bilingual general manager of the Blue Jays. He got his start in the business working in the mail room for the Expos in 2000.  Below is my video interview with him.

“Being from Montreal personally, this is going to be a great thrill," Anthopoulos said. "I started my career with the Expos and spent many a game at Olympic Stadium. It will be exciting to see the Big O come to life again with Major League Baseball.” 

Added Jays president and CEO Paul Beeston: “We are excited to bring the Blue Jays to Montreal play in Montreal and give the fans a taste of Major League Baseball again. This will be a very meaningful experience knowing the strength and passion of baseball fans in Quebec. We hope that these games will rekindle their interest in the Blue Jays and Major League Baseball."

I have a few suggestions to make this event click. For starters, how about honouring Expos legend Tim Raines at one of the games and former GM and manager Jim Fanning at another. Both are presently part of the Blue Jays organization, Raines as a minor league instructor.

Will we ever get a big league team again? I am not sure, but the activity going on to make this happen is impressive. I have been pushing for a Can AM League franchise in Montreal, to join the likes of Quebec City and Trois-Rivieres. Ottawa is also expected to join the minor league loop, which has a short season June through August schedule.
Marc Griffin

Marc Griffin, one Quebecer who almost made it in the majors and now does baseball commentary for RDS, is among those individuals who has been working behind the scenes to try and bring Can AM here. A report in today's Le Journal de Montreal suggested that Montreal may get a team  by 2015 at either a retrofitted Gary Carter Stadium in Ahuntsic or a new stadium in Laval.

"We need that stadium," said Griffin. "That is what has held this up for so long. At one point we looked at building a new one on the South Shore. The Ahuntsic option has parking issues. Laval would be a great spot, but they have to create something from scratch. Finding the land to build a $15 million stadium has been our true challenge."

 Baseball Québec will be directly involved with specialists on site to offer baseball clinics on the field on Sunday, March 30. To promote the development of the sport among young people throughout the province, Baseball Québec will participate in many initiatives and programs that will be put forward as part of this two-game series/

“After more than a decade without Major League Baseball in Montreal, we are proud to welcome this special baseball event  between two leading teams," said  evenko executive vice-president and general manager Jacques
Aubé.  "We are also pleased to provide Quebec fans with exciting baseball while contributing to the growth and development of the sport, thanks to the involvement of Baseball Québec."

As a financial partner of the event, Tourisme Montréal is supporting this initiative.  Baseball fans will be able to buy tickets starting September 14 at 10 a.m. on evenko.ca. Those who purchase tickets for both games will get a 10 percent discount. Special prices for children are also available.

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