Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports
A weekend that saw almost 100,000 people enter Olympic Stadium for two exhibition games ended with a game on Saturday that saw an extended standing ovation for the return of several stars of the 1994 edition of the Montreal Expos.
Then, Melky Cabrera broke a 0-0 deadlock with a two-run home run in the bottom of the eighth inning and Aaron Sanchez struck out the side to end the game but the celebration didn’t end there. Saturday night there was gala hosted by the Montreal Baseball Project for the 1994 team and on Sunday the grassroots ExposNation hosted a rally for fans on a snowy Sunday morning in downtown Montreal.
All in all, baseball swept up the city in a way it hadn’t for a very long time.
“We were able to bring something back that wasn’t here maybe even 10 years ago. Maybe 15-20 years ago,” said Matthew Ross, chairman and founder of ExposNation. “We’ve reignited the fan base.”
“It was bananas,” said Jonah Keri who spoke at the 1994 Gala and also had several book signings throughout the weekend for his definitive Expos history Up, Up and Away. “The first game, we went by metro and I just held up my phone and just started video taping it. We were shoulder to shoulder going up that tunnel up to the stadium. That’s what I remember from Opening Day back in the day. Walking in, it was packed, it was incredible.”
Keri also had a chance to speak at the gala on Saturday night.
“I was 19 that season,” he said. “So imagine you take your 19 year old brain and have to construct a speech and it needs to be eloquent… I don’t know how eloquent it was, but it was overwhelming and amazing and the whole thing has been like that.”
The rally, held at the Chateau Champlain Marriott saw fans come for an intimate Q&A with their favourite players. From the 1994 team, Marquis Grissom, Rondell White, Heath Haynes, Tim Scott, Tim Spehr, Joey Eischen and Denis Boucher were there along with manager Felipe Alou. Also in attendance were the three Quebec-born players in Expos history – Boucher, Claude Raymond and Derek Aucoin who was the master of ceremonies for the event.
A lot of the fans were dressed in Expos gear and perhaps the most promising thing was that there were a lot of fans who looked to be too young to even be alive the last time the Expos played a game – never mind the 1994 team being remembered.
“I believe that the parents of those kids tell them stories about the Expos,” said Felipe Alou. “I believe that it’s a way to keep the seed of the Expos around. There’s no way those kids should know so much about the Expos. They don’t teach that in school. They teach that at home. That’s what keeps the strong possibility to bring a baseball club back to Montreal.”
“This was about 6 months in the making,” said Ross about the organizing of the rally. “A lot of coordination to get the specific players. We’re a non-profit organization so it was very difficult for us to find funds.” Ross mentioned sponsors for the event, KSKS Sports Collectibles and Random House. “All together it helped us put on an event. So we were happy.”