Blue Jays Rebuttal: Jays baseball in Montreal is an emphatic “Oui!”


If there is one thing the Toronto Blue Jays have done extremely well in recent years, it is spreading the love of baseball around Canada. Whether it be through the charitable donations of the Jays Care Foundation, the annual Winter Tour, or even bringing minor league baseball back to Vancouver in 2011, the Blue Jays have placed themselves firmly into the hearts of Canadian baseball fans.

Perhaps the biggest single gesture of that push is the two-game exhibition series that the Blue Jays have played each of the past two seasons in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium, former home of Canada’s first Major League Baseball team, the Montreal Expos.

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Recently, I read an article published by Darrell Samuels of Call to the Pen, which I will be upfront and say is one of our sister sites here at FanSided. In his post, Mr. Samuels takes the stance that there is no sense for Toronto to be playing the exhibition series in Montreal, lamenting such things as the attendance the Expos drew, the previous lack of a rivalry, any player connections between the two franchises, and even the turf in which the players are forced to play on.

I’m here to respectively rebut those claims and note that this series is integrally important to baseball in Canada, and most notably in Montreal.

1.) Attendance

Mr. Samuels is right to note that the Montreal Expos endured some very lean years in terms of attendance figures. However, there are two contributing factors to those declines, one of which Mr. Samuels accurately notes:

  • The 1994 work stoppage left a truly sour taste in the mouths of Expos fans, as they watched their first place Expos team wiped off the face of the Earth. However, average attendance only declined by 4000 the following seasons. The biggest impact was on the quality of players that the Expos had on the field and as such, the quality of the product declined. At that time, the fan base was fairly fickle and support dropped with the quality.
  • The three-year slide in attendance led Major League Baseball on a failed attempt to contract the Expos in 2001. Why would ownership try to improve a product on the field that could likely be gone before any sizable results were seen? Why would any players wish to come to a team where they may no longer be employed in before the end of their contracts? Why would fans invest in a team where the principal investors had no interest in keeping them afloat?

Still, with those factors in place, the Expos drew an average of 18, 251 fans from 1977 through 2004 while playing at Olympic Stadium, peaking at 28,650 in 1983 and bottoming out at 7,935 in 2001, the year contraction was discussed. By comparison, that average would still have drawn more than the Cleveland Indians (17,746) and Tampa Bay Rays (17,858) drew on average in 2014.

Are we going to stop playing baseball in Cleveland and Tampa Bay as well?

2.) This is all about leverage

If attendance was the major concern, that was answered each of the past two seasons, when the two-game exhibitions in Montreal sold out Olympic Stadium. That’s more than 90,000 fans in attendance for just two games for a sport in which they have no local team. However, don’t take that as the Montreal contingent doesn’t have a vested interest.

Remember those Tampa Bay Rays we were talking about just a few minutes ago? Well, they happen to be at an impasse with the local government in Tampa about a new stadium that will replace the pit that is Tropicana Field. As a team with its own attendance issues, the Rays need a venue that is in a better location and is more hospitable to baseball and the fans. That deal doesn’t appear to be in the cards for the Rays in Tampa.

Needless to say, the sell-out crowds in Montreal are a big neon sign, hung out on the front door step just begging for the Rays to relocate North. Now, Olympic Stadium likely isn’t the most opportune park to put the Rays into, but it may be a feasible home while a new park is built. If anything, the fan draw in Montreal and the local movement to win a franchise back has shown to be much more amenable to baseball than the local dedication in Tampa.

And let’s face facts, if there is money to be made, Major League Baseball will flock to it.

3.) Enough about the turf

The argument that two additional games on turf would be detrimental to a player’s career doesn’t hold much water at all. If anything, the two games serve as a warm-up for the odd bounces, the fast surface, and the rubber legs that these players will experience while playing on Toronto’s new surface at Rogers Centre.

Additionally, as shown in last night’s match-up against the Reds, the regulars aren’t going to see extended playing time in these games. Toronto came well armed with enough subs to spell the starters after three at-bats each. If a player is so fragile (yes, I’m looking at you Jose Reyes) that he can’t withstand five innings on turf for a few days before heading to the grass of Yankee Stadium, then perhaps he isn’t cut out to be playing full-time anyway.

4.) The Montreal connection runs deeper than the Expos

Yes, the former Montreal Expos in baseball are dwindling down. In fact, only five still exist across baseball, with Maicer Izturis, Cliff Lee, Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Bartolo Colon still appearing on Major League rosters at the beginning of the 2015 season. Of course, Izturis is the sole member of that group on the Blue Jays roster.

However, the Montreal flavor extends beyond Izturis and the Expos. Catcher Russell Martin, while born in East York, Ontario, attended high school in Montreal and has made it known that this is somewhat of a homecoming for him. Don’t tell him playing in Montreal doesn’t matter.

Needless to say, these reasons are just a few that have made this two-year experiment a success, both for the Blue Jays and for the Montreal baseball community. With a new generation in place, one that has seen that passion for the Blue Jays sweep across Canada and has watched a love for the game grow because of it, this series stands as a reminder that baseball in Montreal is not only viable, but could be outright profitable to Major League Baseball, and the Blue Jays. If there is one thing the Blue Jays don’t have, it is a natural rival, and in this new day and age of constant interleague play, the seeds are there.

And the Montreal baseball fans want to see what grows from it.

Next: Jays return to Montreal: Recap vs. Reds

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