The Montreal Expos, near the end of their existence had the lowest attendance in the league. It became a joke to the people outside of Montreal – and even in it. But they also had moments of brilliance. Some of that was relived this weekend with the two games between the New York Mets and Toronto Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium.
The players who had been here in 1994 weren’t all surprised by the support that they received on Saturday afternoon that saw most of the crowd standing on their feet.
Marquis Grissom was one of the players who received the loudest ovations and the first one the crowd really got up for.
“I wasn’t surprised but it sure felt good to get that standing ovation,” he said. “That loud noise, I felt it and it was one of the greatest feelings ever because I’ve been away from the baseball around seven years and to get that type of standing ovation was very rewarding.”
The 46,121 who attended Friday’s game were more than all but two of the 14 season openers held yesterday. The 50,229 that the Olympic Stadium had on Saturday afternoon’s game was more than any Major League baseball game this season. That is a bit misleading due to stadium capacities, but five of the 14 season openers held yesterday were not sold out.
“I knew there would be two exhibition games and I figured it would draw a decent crowd but nothing like we saw this weekend,” said relief pitcher Tim Scott. “You talk about 45,000-50,000 people both days, those are crowds we got when we were doing well when we were pushing for the pennant or we were leading the division before the strike.”
“I wasn’t surprised but I had a lot of emotions,” said Joey Eischen. “I cried more than a couple of times yesterday. I love the game, I really care about the game. I love my teammates, my coaches, and it’s a hard thing for me. I love this place and I love baseball and they really need to get a team back here.”
Eischen came back to the Expos in 2000, and was with the team until the team left for Washington in 2004. He even played for the Nationals for their first two seasons in Washington. He didn’t blame the fans who stayed away.
“When you have a team that turns its back on the fans, what are the fans supposed to do,” he said. “It was a normal human reaction. But that was instigated by the owners, ownership of whoever had us at that point. That’s a normal human reaction.”
After the two games, there is a lot of talk about Major League Baseball coming back to Montreal and what needs to be done. Obviously, the enthusiasm for these two games will need to be sustained.
“The next few years if they continue to hold these Spring Training games, the people set the standard,” Scott said. “They’re going to have to come out and keep doing the same thing and don’t just make it a one-hit wonder.”
“I think it can [be sustained long term] because I spoke to people who came from Ottawa, came up from Vermont,” said Matthew Ross, founder of ExposNation. “It’s an expansive market, it’s a large market and I think it can be. But we need to have things for people to get excited about.”
“I believe there is something in the heart and in the blood of the fans of this area to bring back the Expos and it’s because of that feeling there’s going to be a club coming back,” said Felipe Alou. “And I hope I see it soon.”
I will leave the final word to Derek Aucoin. Aucoin pitched for the Expos and is now in sports radio. His thoughts on the attendance and weekend were really good, and I wanted to put them in their entirety:
To a certain degree, I knew it was our responsibility to be there. So it met my standards and my expectations because from the beginning I was like if we want to send a message to the guys over at MLB, if we want to make sure our message got there we could not show up 20,000 to each game. We had to make sure that we were there in a huge number and we were and the fans behaved and the fans loved baseball and it was a big party and I think the message was sent loud and clear. Whether it was received, that’s a whole other thing but the message was loud and clear and it was phenomenal and I’m so proud of the 46,121 that were there Friday night and the 50,000-plus that were there on Saturday. I couldn’t be prouder of how everybody showed up and cheered for the baseball, sang ‘Let’s Go Expos’, did the wave, had hot dogs and beers and brought their kids out. I couldn’t be any more proud of the public and how they came out.