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A first-hand look at America’s pastime

by Matthew Shanahan March 24, 2015
A first-hand look at America’s pastime

The spring training atmosphere is a constant reminder of what Montreal is missing

It’s a Sunday afternoon in early March. For most Montrealers, it’s a time that can be described as a final whiff of winter. Perhaps it’s still cold enough to tie up your skates one more time and head out to shoot some puck on your neighbourhood rink, or perhaps you decide to stay indoors and do that dreaded homework you have due Monday morning. Last Sunday, I did none of those things.

Photo by Mark Sobba on Flickr.

Given that I’m studying abroad in Los Angeles this year, I decided to take this opportunity and head to Phoenix, Arizona last weekend with two primary motivations: to see the Canadiens play the Coyotes and to experience my first spring training baseball game.

I pulled up to the game and followed the herd of cars that had to park on an old, beat-up soccer field for five dollars. It was a rematch of last year’s American League Division Series in which the Kansas City Royals swept the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. The game was played at Tempe Diablo Stadium, the spring training facility for the Angels with a capacity crowd of 9,500. I wore my vintage blue Andrew Dawson Expos t-shirt and a modernized Expos hat.

The first thing I noticed upon entering the ballpark was the same jacked-up prices for both beer and food that you’d normally see in a Major League ballpark, but there were surely some differences. Being in a ballpark of less than 10,000 people, you have the lower seats that cost somewhere in the $50-60 range as well as the baselines being somewhere in the middle. But, the real spring training experience involves sitting on the outfield grass. People can sit anywhere on the elevated grass area and get as comfortable as they desire.

The game had all the intensity and excitement of a normal Major League regular season game, with a back-and-forth affair, ending with the Royals winning the game 6-4, scoring four runs in the ninth inning to win.

Another unique component of the spring training experience is that the fans appear to simply enjoy watching the game of baseball and don’t care about the outcome of the game. Sure, there were many Angels and Royals fans–evident by their attire–but the attitude was different because nothing was on the line at the end of the game.

Although football is undoubtedly the biggest sport in the U.S., baseball is America’s pastime and rooted in a tradition that football can never measure up to. Spring training baseball achieved the fullness of that tradition. A beautiful spring day; people watching while lounging on the grass from the outfield; a small stadium; these are the elements that made people fall in love with baseball.

As I watched the game, I couldn’t help but think about what it would be like to be down in Florida, watching the Expos and their abundance of minor-league talent get ready for another season to compete in the National League East Division.

I’m convinced that Montrealers have reason to believe that this dream, which was once reality, can come true once again. In the past few years, Montreal has taken the necessary steps to show that the city we call home can once again have a Major League baseball team. One of those productive steps began last year with the Olympic Stadium hosting Major League Baseball for the first time since the Expos played their last baseball game 10 years earlier. For the second consecutive year, the Olympic Stadium will host the Toronto Blue Jays and the Cincinnati Reds. Last year’s exhibition series was a huge success, bringing in over 96,000 fans and a lot of hype to the Big O.

Hopefully Montreal has not lost its hopes of getting a team back and will draw similar numbers this time around. If you’re a baseball fan in Montreal or in any way would appreciate having a Major League Baseball team back, it’s your duty to go to at least one of the games on April 3 or 4. Let’s continue to show Major League Baseball that Montreal loves its baseball and that things will be different the second time around.

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