This past weekend the city welcomed the return of professional baseball
Marking the return of Major League Baseball, the green metro line towards Honoré-Beaugrand was packed with fans sporting baseball accessories and clothing. People were going to see the Toronto Blue Jays host the New York Mets for two pre-season games at the Olympic Stadium on Friday and Saturday.
Nostalgia really hit when the ticket was ripped to confirm entry, especially since the last professional baseball game in Montreal was in 2004. The smell of steamed hot dogs was immediate There were inflatable playgrounds for children while several kiosks were prepared around the stadium with Expos and Jays memorabilia.
“It is so great to live moments like these again,” long-time baseball fan Katherine Moreau said. “It brings back so many memories from the early 2000s when I was in my teens and I see areas selling clothing and people walking.”
Before Friday’s game started, a tribute was paid to Gary “The Kid” Carter – the Expos’ Hall of Fame catcher who passed away in 2012. His family, along with former teammates Steve Rogers, Tim Raines and Warren Cromartie, witnessed the unveiling of a banner in the shape of home plate on the right field wall. On Saturday, there was an homage to the 1994 Montreal Expos as a banner was unveiled in left field. Twenty members of the team were present, including manager Felipe Alou and Canadian-born Larry Walker.
Overseeing a turf that was much better than what the Expos played on, chants of “Let’s Go Expos” broke out early and often. The waves were strong and the bench-slamming got louder as the games progressed.
The Olympic Stadium was buzzing during the entirety of the games and the fans knew where their allegiance lay. The Mets were booed when they scored, while the Jays were cheered for, as if they really were the home team.
“When Jose Bautista made contact with the ball, everybody knew it was gone,” said Anthony Matton,an enthusiastic attendee from New Brunswick.
Blue Jays infielder Edwin Encarnación’s two-run game-tying hit in the bottom of the seventh inning and outfielder Ricardo Nanita’s walk-off single excited the fans in a Jays 5-4 victory during game one.
The following day, Blue Jays outfielder Melky Cabrera’s two-run blast ignited fireworks in center field and led the Jays to a 2-0 win and weekend sweep.
The pre-season games were a wonderful experiment for Major League Baseball and deemed a successful event. Over 96,000 people walked into the Olympic Stadium this weekend as 46,121 people attended Friday’s game, while 50,299 were in the stands for Saturday’s match. The fans were loud and proud, making their case to the major league front offices that baseball belongs in Montreal once again. While the return of a permanent team will still take time, the spirit of baseball was alive and well in the city, if only for a weekend.