Tim Raines tribute and dreams of Expos
Jays make annual pre-season stopover in Montreal
It’s Groundhog Day all over again, the annual spring rite when we gather at Olympic Stadium to wallow in Expos nostalgia, demonstrate our love for baseball and, coincidentally, to enrich the Toronto Blue Jays and Evenko in the process.
If a pair of meaningless exhibition games between the Blue Jays and the Pittsburgh Pirates don’t quite whet your appetite, there’s plenty more, beginning with the much deserved tribute to Tim Raines, who was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame last winter on his 10th and final chance.
The festivities this year will include the Fan Jam beginning at 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday. The tribute, scheduled for 6:35 Friday ahead of the game’s 7 p.m. start, should be the big draw.
If Raines isn’t enough, Dennis Martinez, Steve Rogers, Bill Lee, Al Oliver, David Palmer and Jeff Reardon will also be on hand Friday and Quebec Major Leaguers including Claude Raymond, Denis Boucher and Derek Aucoin will be honoured Saturday.
The subtext, as always, will be the effort to bring back the Expos. What seemed an impossible pipedream when the Jays first played these exhibitions four years ago has moved to the realm of the genuinely possible, even if a report this week that investors were awaiting word from Major League Baseball was premature.
We will always be grateful to Frédéric Daigle of Presse Canadienne, whose report that a group of Montreal investors had met the conditions for the return of the Expos elicited this pithy response from Mayor Denis Coderre: “Article Frédéric Daigle sur retour Expos, source a tenté de vous rouler dans la farine ... rien de réglé. Tout chemine bien mais pas entente . ... ”
I had never come across the expression “rouler dans la farine” before. “Rolled in the flour,” which I would translate as “pull the wool over your eyes.” There’s a lot of that with any big project but this time, the coating of flour appears to be rather light.
Basically Coderre appeared to be saying that no deal is done, but the universe is unfolding as it should. Mitch Garber, a member of the group trying to birth a new Expos franchise, said much the same thing: Talk of financial support from two levels of government and potential stadium locations and designs was premature if not downright inaccurate.
“There’s this great desire to have Major League Baseball in Montreal,” Garber said. “But it’s not as advanced as this story would make it sound.”
The overall picture should become clearer at the Olympic Stadium Friday afternoon, when reporters will be more interested in hearing what Mayor Photo Op has to say than in who is batting seventh for the Blue Jays.
There are at least a dozen groups working in some way for the return of the Expos, most with little more to offer than nostalgia and hope. The Garber/Stephen Bronfman group is the one with the clout, money and Bronfman name. The investors in that group aside, no one I know has studied the file more thoroughly than Mark Sanchini, a history teacher at the Wilfred Laurier School Board.
Sanchini noted that the Peel Basin site has been targeted but even with the demolition of the Bonaventure expressway, there isn’t enough room on the north side of the basin to locate a baseball park. “The only viable piece of land,” Sanchini said, “is on the south side of the basin, in Goose Village.” While exploring the area last summer, Sanchini discovered that most of the land between Mill Street, Bridge Street, the Peel Basin and Wellington Street is owned by the city — and that there would appear to be enough land there for a stadium.
“What also confirmed my suspicions is that the new REM train now has a planned stop called Peel Basin, with exits on both the north and south sides of the basin. There is no justification for putting an exit on the south side, in Goose Village, unless you’re planning a major real-estate project.”
Sanchini compares the potential of Goose Village with the site of Petco Park in San Diego, an industrial park before the stadium was built that is now prime real estate — a common business plan for franchise owners looking to build a stadium.
It would appear that we’re still some distance from seeing a deal to bring the Expos back but the project has progressed light years.
Are we close? Well, I wouldn’t want to roll you in the flour. LASALLE, Allan 1:00 Pardes Chaim. * See www.hebrewbasicburial.ca for shiva times