“Life is not a spectator sport. If you're going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you're wasting your life.”Jackie Robinson
Jackie Robinson’s words ring so true to me, especially after the whirlwind the last few weeks have been. Back on March 20th, Montreal Baseball Project announced the launch of a major feasibility study to examine the possibility of bringing a Major League Baseball franchise back to Montreal. Two weeks later, we presented the advance-premiere of 42, the major motion picture Jackie Robinson story, to a packed house at the Scotiabank Cinema in Montreal. Needless to say, there’s been no grandstand sitting on this journey. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I was so pleased to sit beside representatives of Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montreal, Ernst & Young, and BCF to announce this good news. The feasibility study is going to be meticulous, taking every necessary step, one step at a time. It’s in very good hands. And the reaction to the announcement has been tremendous, especially in Montreal but also all across Canada and down in the States. Opening Day is always a time of hope and this year, for the first time in a long time, Montreal had some hope of its own.
On April 3rd, MBP presented an advance screening of 42 in downtown Montreal. We were the only city in all of Canada to have the movie so early – not bad for a city without a team! We showed the film to a capacity crowd of Montreal baseball fans, and let me say that the city’s passion for the game was once again on display. There was a sea of baseball caps (mostly Expos, of course), jerseys, and smiling faces. The movie itself was amazing. It might even be the best baseball movie ever made. Every athlete of color that’s come along in the last 66 years has Jackie Robinson to thank. And, as the film pointed out so well, we all – black, white, green, striped, whatever – owe Jackie Robinson a big debt of gratitude. By showing us that race means nothing between the lines of a baseball field, he made us realize the same should be true off the field. We’re still working on it, but we’ve come a long way since Robinson went through hell for the sake of all the rest of us. Claude Raymond was on hand to provide some first-hand historical perspective. He stood up and told us about his days in the minors playing with Ed Charles, who was portrayed in the film. Claude recalled how when the team bus would stop at restaurants in certain cities, he’d bring a sandwich to Ed, who would wait in the bus because he wasn’t allowed inside with the white players.
When I was up there hosting the movie event, I felt Jackie Robinson’s presence in the room. I thought about how it was nearly one year to the day that I began this journey. And as I looked into the eyes of the crowd who were hungry for more baseball, the feeling that I had was unmistakeable: something’s happening.
I thought about how baseball transcends sports. It has this ability to combat uneasiness, to make sense out of tragedy. Baseball has a great calming effect – think of 9/11 when it was baseball that started the healing process when President Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium in New York. I thought about how baseball is played by nine different personalities on a team. They may not like one another but you become a team and cut through the hatred. After the game, some guys might stick around and hang together, others might take off in different directions, but come the next game, when it counts, they are a team.
Baseball can do the same for the city of Montreal. Baseball has a way of uniting people. Imagine what a new ballpark and the return of Major League Baseball could do for Montreal. A common accomplishment to celebrate together. My team, the Expos, were named after Expo ‘67, one of this city’s greatest accomplishments, one of this city’s proudest moments. Expo was a time of wonder, happiness, and great optimism for the future. The feeling was that a new and amazing era was on the horizon. Montreal Baseball Project’s journey is about rekindling that special Expo spirit and unleashing it on the city again. I feel in my heart that Jackie Robinson is behind us on this one.