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Going to bat for the Montreal Expos….
By Wendy Frezzen

Even if it is the worst team in baseball, it’s all about unconditional love!

Since the baseball strike is now imminent, it seems like my favorite baseball team, the Montreal Expos, are dead in the water. Looks like Bud Selig will finally have his way and lower the axe on my beloved team. I know that just one fan can’t change what will happen. I just wanted to pay tribute to the team I have loved for the last 24 years, share some memories, and tell you what I think.

I went to my first Expos game when I was 4. I don’t remember it, but I hear I really enjoyed it. I have been a rabid Expos fan ever since. It certainly helps that my Grandmother and Aunt have been Rabid Expos fans since the Expos became a team in 1969. My Mother, Aunt, Grandmother and Grandfather have many fond memories of going to ‘Jarry Parc’ to see them play. I have only seen them play in Olympic Stadium.

The Expos moved from Jarry Parc to Olympic stadium in 1977. The Montrealers who had to foot the bill for Olmypic Stadium when it was built for the 1976 Summer Olympics call it "The Big Owe". Those were the same games where American Bruce Jenner won his gold medal in the Decathalon and Nadia Comaneci won the world’s heart. Olympic Stadium was built in a hurry, less than six months, and of course, the effects were felt years later when the ceiling started to fall apart. Thank god there wasn’t a game being played, nobody was hurt. Though because of low attendance, nobody would have probably been hurt anyway! The roof was never finished in time for the Olympics and they never finished it till the late 80’s.

I remember going to Expos games, looking up into open roof and seeing the workmen working on the tower that holds the retracting mechanism for the roof. It became a part of going to the game! Every time I went, it just got taller and taller. It seemed strange that they finished it when it was finally done. It was nice to have a retractable roof on the stadium, no more rained out games and I had been to a few of them! They rarely did "raise the roof" on the stadium, it almost was always closed. One year, while the roof was closed, a windstorm ripped the tarp used as the "roof" for the stadium. From then on they had to rebuild the roof and make it stationary; Olympic Stadium had become an indoor stadium. No matter what the stadium looked like, I still loved going there and I have many fond memories.

I remember the days of the packed stadium, when you couldn’t hear yourself think over all of the cheering! Back when you only get seats in the "rafters" and you had to bring your binoculars to see anything because the players were like little ants. Sometimes they would pack in 30,000 fans! That was back in the heyday of baseball in Montreal. That was when they had Gary Carter, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Rusty Staub, and even PETE ROSE! Yes! Pete Rose actually played for the Expos, but only for like a week! I have seen Pete play against the Expos many times! I have also seen Ozzie Smith, Mark McGwire, Johnny Bench, Orel Hershiser, Tommy Lasorda, Daryl Strawberry, Bobby Bonds, Nomar Garciaparra, and the list goes on and on. It’s ironic that the baseball that made Montreal so exciting will probably ultimately kill the Expos.

What will ultimately kill the Expos? I’m not sure. You could say it will be attendance or that Montreal is not a baseball town. I think maybe it was the 1994 strike and some bad mismanagement. I say this kind of tongue and cheek, but it’s a CONSPIRACY! Seems like every time the Expos do well, they are currently in second place behind Atlanta in their division and in the wild card race, Major League Baseball goes on strike.

They were doing VERY well in 1994. It was a tight race with the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and the Expos jockeying for first place. The Expos were probably headed to the playoffs for the first time since at least 1982, but the strike happened. The strike made many fans mad and lowered attendance figures for many of the teams around the league, including the Expos. From then on, the Expos lost money and had to constantly lose players because they couldn’t pay them. There was Rondell White, Larry Walker, Randy Johnson, and Pedro Martinez, just to name a FEW. It seemed like every time I would get a favorite player, they would get traded or would sign with another team. It was so disappointing. This happened mostly because of a man named Claude Brochu.

Claude Brochu, the primary shareholder for the Expos in the late 90’s mismanaged the team and they fell on to hard times. So many fans hated him; some even brought "Claude the Fraud" signs to the game. Brochu wanted a new downtown stadium so they could get more fans in because he claimed that the stadium isn’t close enough to downtown. He even used the "The stadium was not built for baseball" argument even AFTER they remodeled the stadium and were given new uniforms for the 1994 season so it was more "built for baseball" and more attractive to the fans! Since the team was falling apart under Brochu, rumors were running rampant that the team was moving to Virginia. Brochu still demanded a new stadium or the team was going to be sold. Not too long after they threatened the sale of the team and a model was made of the new stadium for the press to see, and was put in the "Big O" for the fans to see. The owners sell the team.

They sell to a guy named Jeffrey Loria, an art dealer from New York City. He is new blood and he’s really doing a great job of promoting the team and sprucing things up around the stadium. I went to opening day the first year that Loria owned the team. A friend of mine who lives in the Montreal area said to me that night, "The French don’t trust this guy". I really didn’t believe him, I was SO happy that the Expos were doing great, I didn’t care. I just was waiting to see what happened! I was hoping to see shades of the "good ole’ days". The Expos were doing GREAT! Attendance was up! They were kicking BUTT. Then, things started to fall apart. Something went wrong and they lost the downtown stadium. Rumors started to fly again. Loria announced that he was going to sell the team also. He sold to the MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL owners, right into Bud Selig’s hands. I think they were in cahoots the whole time. That is why Jeffery Loria and Bud Selig can BITE ME!

Even if baseball is dead in Montreal, it was nice for the time it lasted. It gave this country girl from rural upstate New York something to cheer for and something to love. Even if it is the worst team in baseball, it’s all about unconditional love! It also gave me a chance to see major stars that I would have to travel at least five hours to see otherwise. The Expos are in my blood and a great memory from my childhood and early adulthood that I will cherish forever. So, Au revoir my boys, I’ll certainly miss you!

© Wendy Frezzen September 2002

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