This weekend, Montreal is playing host to a couple of preseason baseball games and more than 90,000 people will show up to watch. They’ll do that not because they’re fans of meaningless Blue Jays exhibition games, but because going to a baseball game in that city means something deeper to them. Although I won’t be there for the games this weekend, I count myself in that group.
The trip I most want to take is to travel to Montreal with my Dad to see the first home opener of our resurrected and beloved Expos. My Dad is turning 76 this year and although there’s renewed interest in Montreal as a possible site for a team, it’s still a long, long way off, if it ever happens at all. So at this point, it’s a bit of a fantasy trip, but the optimist in me holds out hope of living it someday.
My first experiences of traveling were back in the early 1980s when Dad took me to see some Expos games a couple of summers in a row. We had a lot of fun in the city getting away with things Mom would never have allowed at home: eating deep fried food, having ice cream for breakfast, chasing pigeons in city parks (I was only 8 at the time and I had never seen so many pigeons in one place before), Dad partaking in an afternoon beer and passing his bottle of Budweiser beer to me to hold while he took a picture of me. To this day the smell of a Bud takes me back to that very moment. Good times. But most of all from those trips, I remember the baseball. I remember the bright lights and the event of it all.
There are moments burned deep in my memory that those baseball games in Montreal this weekend will awaken and bring to the front of mind. Like how I felt when I first stepped inside Olympic Stadium. Watching Tim Raines sprint around the bases when he hit a triple off the top of the right field wall. Sitting in the front row one game and getting to speak with Andre Dawson, Woody Fryman, Steve Rogers and most memorably, meeting my idol, Gary Carter.
The Expos have been gone for a while, but the memories of those days and nights at Olympic Stadium never fail to make me smile. I was fascinated with the accumulating clucking chickens that would appear on the scoreboard when the opposition would attempt to pick an Expos runner off of first. I loved the leather throated Eskimo Pie ice cream vendor who you could hear clear across the stadium yelling “Ice cream! Crème glacée! Eskimo-ho!” The organ player breaking into “Val-deri, Val-dera…” when the good guys had men on base and were rallying for runs. And of course, Youppi’s furry orange fingers tickling my ear to make me smile when I posed for this picture.
Dad and I made our last pilgrimage to see our Expos play in 2002. The ‘Spos were improbably in the thick of the NL East race in July and they were taking on the first place Braves. The crowds for the weekend series were big by 2000s Expos standards, pushing close to 15-20,000. As was far too common for the games we got to, the Expos lost 2 of 3, but it was great to be in the city with Dad as an adult, to share a few too many 32oz Molson Exports, and to cheer for the home team. The one game the Expos won featured an electric fifth inning with three home runs including a mammoth shot to deep right by Vladi.
Perhaps it was the knowledge that this would be our last Expos trip, perhaps it was the sound of the ball off the bat, or perhaps it was the 32oz beers in our hands – we cheered passionately, talked baseball in broken French with those around us, then sang in victory on the metro ride back downtown.
In essence, I’d like to relive those trips. My Dad and I have done a number of baseball weekends in Toronto that have been great, but they’re just not the same as Montreal. The Expos were our team, not the team we were left with cheering for by right of nationality. I’d love to take Dad to the home opener and rebirth of the Expos. In my mind’s eye, they’re still at the Big O for their first season, and we’re in terrible seats way up in the upper deck along the 3rd base line. As they introduce the team and the anthems are played, I imagine us looking around the stadium jammed with people just like us, living out a dream they thought might never come true. There are tears in the eyes of all around us. I’ve got my arm around my Dad, there’s a cold beer in my hand, the Expos pitcher takes the mound, then 50,000 voices nearly lift the roof off the stadium cheering a first strike. They’re finally back. We are all finally back. Forever, nos amours.