Montreal's weekend of baseball once again proved to be an incredible experience that left its mark on the city and the baseball world. The challenge was in many ways bigger this time around, and Montreal once again rose to the occasion, proving that the hugely successful return of baseball last year was not just a novelty, but Montreal reconnecting with a fundamental part of its DNA, as Mayor Denis Coderre rightly says.
Montreal Baseball Project was excited to be leading off this weekend with our All-Star Gala that reconnected some of the biggest names in Expos history with the city that knew them as 'Nos Amours'. The personal interactions between the honorees and the guests and dignitaries in attendance gave the evening a very special feeling that celebrated the special history that we all shared together.
There were some unforgettable moments, like Tim Raines mentioning how Montreal was where he grew up and he felt Canadian because of that, and Andre Dawson describing so eloquently how difficult it was for him to leave Montreal and how committed he is to seeing baseball return here. Andres Galarraga, with his smile as generous as we remembered it, spoke fondly of his time in Montreal as an Expo, as did Vladimir Guerrero, who ended his speech with a 'merci beaucoup', proving how sincere their words were, after spending so many years away from the city.
Having them share the stage together along with legendary broadcaster Jacques Doucet was special, given that as many as three of them have a chance at joining Andre Dawson and the late Gary Carter as representatives of the Expos franchise in Cooperstown. There were memories made that will last a lifetime for fans of all ages, and some smaller moments some of our guests witnessed, like when Vladimir Guerrero briefly stepped outside the ballroom to buy an Expos keychain for himself. It made it clear to us how important it was to bring back these remarkable individuals, as much for the fans as for the players themselves. The Gala and the buzz surrounding it in the media would prove to be the big hit to start the rally that was to come in the following days.
If last year's exhibition games at Olympic Stadium were about celebrating the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Expos team, this year's games would be about proving baseball had a much deeper meaning to Montrealers and truly understanding what that was. Many were expecting a drop in attendance from last year, including representatives from Major League Baseball. What happened was the exact opposite, as the total attendance not only matched last year's number, but beat it by a slight margin. The heartwarming moments between Russell Martin and his father, and the wonderful ovation the Reds’ Chad Wallach received, simply because so many fans remembered his father's time with the Expos, were taken in by so many children who were themselves watching their first game with their own parents. It marked a new beginning for baseball fans, and a continuation of the revival that began last year. It was as if the difficult years of the Expos franchise were completely forgotten, and we were brought back to the atmosphere of the glory days of the early 80’s.
It seems impossible to imagine Major League Baseball not returning to Montreal next year, especially with even more teams expressing an interest in playing these games. Because of this tremendous success, Montreal is no longer just part of the conversation, but part of the circuit. The encouraging comments we have heard from Major League Baseball, including from Commissioner Rob Manfred himself, mark a significant development in what we are trying to accomplish. The questions are steadily shifting away from "if baseball can return" to "when can baseball return".
We have clearly moved into a new phase in this big dream of ours, and as much as we are anxious to see progress, it is only by having patience and following due process that we find ourselves closer today than we have ever been. But rest assured, we are continuing to work behind the scenes, making sure we build upon the successes of the past few years and the firm grassroots that have been established. Stay tuned!
Click here to see more photos from our Gala!