The crowd to take in the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets at Olympic Stadium was higher than even the most optimistic people thought and in the end, they got a game that was more exciting than even the most optimistic people thought a Spring Training game could be.
Being in the crowd, it really seemed like that the crowd picked up when Jose Bautista hit his home run to left field off of Jenrry Mejia in the fourth inning. Olympic Stadium had a buzz that the Rogers broadcast team picked up on early. But the crowd really got louder as the game got into the later innings.
When Edwin Encarnacion hit his game-tying single, the crowd was really into the game and invested in the Blue Jays winning the game despite persistent – but not fully realized “Let’s go Expos” chants throughout the game. Several out of town media suggested that the game had a playoff vibe to it and several also pointed out surprise at how loud it got.
This wasn’t just a simple crowd together for a party. Most of the crowd stayed until the end of the game and everyone in attendance was standing in the ninth inning as soon as Melky Cabrera moved Munenori Kawasaki to third base with one out. They got up for Brett Lawrie‘s diving stop at third base as well and knew Bautista’s home run was out as soon as it hit the bat.
In fact, it wasn’t until I got home and watched it on television that I was surprised at how loud it was throughout the game. It really accented the crowd noise and makes it look good to people who weren’t necessarily at the game.
Both teams played regulars for most of the game and it will be interesting to see how the lineups for tomorrow’s game are affected. Both teams do have a day off on Sunday between Saturday’s afternoon game and their season opener on Monday.
From my perspective, there were some of Blue Jays fans, some Mets fans and a lot more Expos fans. In fact, I mentioned several times to my wife that I didn’t even know THAT many people even HAD Expos jerseys. And we’re not talking about Gary Carter, Andre Dawson or Vladimir Guerrero jerseys – which there were a lot of. I saw a Jim Fanning jersey. Tim Raines. Pedro Martinez. Most of the jerseys were definitely… shall we say… aged.
These weren’t ironic baseball fans. These were baseball fans. I caught myself looking away at the game and just looking at the upper deck in awe of how full it was. And I’m sure Saturday’s game will be even bigger than the over 46,000 at Friday’s game and the pre-game vibe will be different for that one as well.
Instead of a late-arriving crowd having a somber celebration of Gary Carter’s life, it will be a celebration of the 1994 Expos.
At the start of the game, I was just going to enjoy a baseball game. No different from trips I’ve made to other parks since 2004. By the end of it, I was cheering for the Blue Jays like most of the rest of the people in attendance. I’m not saying I will become a Blue Jays fan full-time, but I can’t imagine it not being a considered a marketing win for Rogers as well as a business success for Evenko and for the slight chance of a return of full-time baseball to Montreal.
All in all, it was a surreal experience to be back in Olympic Stadium set up for baseball and to see a crowd that was genuinely enjoying themselves.