My dream came true. I walked 7 minutes to the subway; slipped onto the orange line at 9:50 AM, traveled 11 minutes to Lionel Groulx, waited 3 minutes, transferred to a green line-direction Honore Beaugrand and 17 minutes later arrived to Pie IX-Olympic Stadium. Totel travel time-38 minutes.
I walked to Sherbrooke street, took in the view. It was a grey day. There was no haze; the mountain tops in the southern skies distance, the shipping cranes along the St. Lawrence River. I spotted a tall stranger with a Minnesota Twins bag on his back and asked the obvious question, “so you traveled from Minnesota to see a game at Olympic Stadium?”
Actually, he traveled from New Jersey, but grew up in Minnesota and yes, he came to see Olympic Stadium. He had already seen all 30 MLB parks and the exhibition games in Montréal were an opportunity to see one he had missed. We walked towards the stadium together. There was a lot to talk about.
There were 51,000 people at yesterday’s game and we quickly became life long baseball friends; the conversation spanning Early Wynn, the 1914 Boston Braves, a Carlos Gomez gift from Minnesota to Milwaukee; any which way baseball babble speak our bridge.
His assigned seat was way up top. So was mine, but we watched the New York Mets take batting practice down below. We watched the spastic Brett Lawrie over swing into a first pitch double play. We were bumped from lower box and grandstand seats on three separate occasions, but never hassled by ushers as we played mouse in a crowded room; finding the infinitesimal opening.
Brandon Morrow of the Blue Jays pitched superb or the Mets were tired and couldn’t see the ball. Juan Lagares did a damn good impersonation of Willie Mays in centerfield. I was awe-struck by his instinct and range. The Blue Jays scored the first runs of the game; a two run homer by Melky Cabrera in the bottom of the eighth inning.
We waited a good 30 minutes after the game and watched as the crowd spilled to the exits. It felt like fast forward photography; a 30 year Expos history condensed into a blink; from standing room only crowd smashing the plastic seats-make some noise! to a sparse crowd to a nothing crowd and that loud silence and finally the usher and his tragic words, “time to get lost.”
And oh yeh, there was pregame celebration to honor the 1994 Expos and fans cried and wore their uniforms proudly. They snapped photos and paid 7.50 for a beer and throughout the game performed the wave and chanted , “Let’s go Expos, Let’s go Expos.” A crowd cheering for a team not playing; a team no longer existing. Charming goose bumps indeed, but rage and disappointment too.
Where were these tear jerkers and nostalgic junkies from 2000-2004 when attendance dipped below 10,000 per game? Where were these fans when it mattered most? It’s easy to love a team when winning is the norm and big daddy MLB corporate boss is not breathing down your neck. Praises be to Chicago Cub fans.
Montreal can wave its plastic finger at evil America, at the MLB, at Bud Selig. They can blame management and Jeffrey Loria for an abusive relationship with the team, but fans were not here from 2000-2004. They blamed the stadium; said it was old, ugly and out of the way. But the Big O is still easier to reach than most MLB stadiums; the subway empties into the turnstiles. And the outside views? Only San Francisco and Pittsburgh come to mind as more photogenic.
My new friend and I exchanged emails and parted ways in the concourse; he heading back to New York on the greyhound and me walking through the mob of fans wearing not only Expo hats and jerseys, but every team in baseball. The only one I didn’t spot on a head or back was the San Diego Padres.
I turned west on Hochelaga, took one last look at the stadium; the dream come true still ringing in my mind, but still sobered from feeling pissed off that it won’t happen again; pissed at Expo fans more than anything else.
But what the hell? This is rare in Montreal I thought; the slide show images of a game still in my mind and a new baseball friend and sudddenly I knew that any song on my MP3 would make sense. I clicked forward a few times and the carousel landed on Dire Straits.