As I watched the Washington Nationals stamp their ticket to the Franchise’s first World Series appearance, I had – as I am sure many former Expos fans had – mixed emotions. I have never known how to feel about the Nationals. Should I cheer for them as they are the lasting legacy of the Montreal Expos franchise? Or should I loath them for being the Town that stole the Expos away in 2005?
The fact that Washington was consistently awful for nearly a decade (2005-2011) allowed me to be comfortably estranged from the organization for the early years. They were really out-of-sight, out-of-mind.
But the Nationals are not the last flicker of light for baseball in Montreal. This season was the 50th anniversary of the Expos-Nationals organization and the League saw many Expos/Montreal related events, discussions, coaches and players still keeping the legacy of Montreal baseball alive.
THE MOVE ‘If you build it they will come’
Ever since Rob Manfred took over as MLB’s Commissioner, he has been frequently discussed the return of baseball to Montreal – whether as an expansion team or as a relocation. But this June news broke that Major League Baseball granted the Tampa Bay Rays permission to explore splitting their home games between Tampa Bay and Montreal.
Rays owner Stu Sternberg has long discussed Montreal as a potential destination for relocation but this was the first time he or Manfred had discussed a formal plan.
Sternberg was quick to explain that this was not a “staged exit” from Tampa and that he really liked the idea of a “sister city.” The proposal seemed like a bit of a pipe dream, as both cities would be expected to build new stadiums but would only have half a team. Once people started to dissect some the logistics, it seemed unlikely.
But it was enough for Stephen Bronfman, to restart the rallying cry of returning baseball to Montreal.
“It’s not for me to be getting into timing or split numbers of games or whatever. There are so many questions and there’s a lot of fun we can have with it,” said Bronfman.
Whether this is a serious step in the return process, or simply just another false start, we cannot be sure. But it was still a huge story for Montreal and the future of Canadian baseball.
MONTREALERS IN THE MAJORS
The City of Montreal had a trio of representatives on the field in 2019, with rookies Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Abraham Toro, joining veteran backstop Russell Martin. When you compare that amount to Canada’s other major metropolises – Toronto had three-players, Vancouver had four and Calgary had one.
Although Martin’s career appears to be winding down, Guerrero Jr. and Toro may be ready to take the Montreal baseball torch from him.
In his rookie campaign, Guerrero Jr. hit .272, with a .339 OBP, 15 home runs and 69 RBI in 123 games for the Blue Jays. Toro was a surprise August call up for the Astros and made it into 25 games down the stretch. The 22-year old third baseman hit .218, with a .303 OBP.
Whether Martin continues to play beyond this season is uncertain. The 36-year old’s current contract expires after 2019, and he saw his playing time severely limited last season.
SON OF AN EXPO
At the beginning of 2019 two of the MLB’s highest ranked prospects had Expos blood pumping through their young veins. Guerrero Jr., as we discussed, was born in Montreal, as his Hall of Fame father played the first eight years of his career for the Expos.
Despite having been raised in the Dominican Republic, the City of Montreal has embraced the Son of Vlad as one of their own. When Guerrero Jr. hit an exhibition game walk off at Olympic Stadium during the 2018 Spring Training, the Montreal crowd went wild.
The Blue Jays will again being playing exhibition games in Montreal this pre-season and expect Vlad Jr. to get a similar welcome.
On the National League side, San Diego Padres prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. entered the season as the top-ranked prospect in the NL.
Fernando Tatis Sr. played three seasons in Montreal between 2001-2003. Despite having played nearly 1,000 MLB games, the eldest Tatis was never the standout that many believe Tatis Jr. will be. The young-Padre hit .317, with a .379 OBP and 22 home runs in only 84 games.
Other current MLB players with Expos lineage include Delino DeShields of the Texas Rangers (son of Delino DeShields), Drew Butera of the Colorado Rockies (son of Sal Butera), and Travis Shaw of the Milwaukee Brewers (son of Jeff Shaw).
FORMER EXPOS – CURRENT COACHES
In 2019, there were four MLB coaches who once wore the rouge, blanc and bleau.
Cleveland Indians skipper Terry Francona, played 365 games for the Expos between 1981-85 and was part of Montreal’s only playoff appearance in 1981.
In June, Francona spoke about the idea of baseball returning to Montreal.
“Maybe I’m not in the minority, but I’d love to see, under the proper circumstances, a team go back to Montreal,” he said.
When the Washington Nationals wore Montreal Expos jerseys earlier this year current Nationals manager Dave Martinez and third base coach Bob Henley were the only ones who had worn the jersey before. Martinez played 431 games between 1988-91 and Henley played 41 games in 1998.
The Nationals skipper also spoke fondly about his time in Montreal.
“I enjoyed the city very much, the people, the fans, it was awesome,” Martinez said. “I’ve always said hopefully they bring a team back (to Montreal).”
THE LONGEST SERVING NAT – Ryan Zimmerman
With Bartolo Colon unofficially retired, there now are no MLB players that played for the Expos. But the Nationals first ever draft pick in 2005 Ryan Zimmerman is still an active member of the team.
The now 34-year old first baseman is like the phoenix that rose from the ashes of the Expos organization as the team earned the fourth overall pick after their deplorable final campaign in Montreal.
Zimmerman has spent his entire 15 year career in DC and continues to be a contributing member to these World Series Nationals.
Tim Raines has come out as the unofficial voice of the Expos for Washington Fan Club. But unlike the Hall of Famer, there remain many in Montreal and throughout Expos Nation, who will be either cheering against or feel indifferent to Washington.
Regardless, people in baseball are talking about baseball in Montreal.
(Top Photo: @MLB on twitter)