TORONTO – The expected announcement Tuesday of a pair of Toronto Blue Jays spring training games at Montreal’s Olympic Stadium next year versus the New York Mets will bring to fruition an event that’s been in the works for at least a couple of years.
It was in April 2011 that club president Paul Beeston first floated the idea of bringing some pre-season action to La Belle Province, part of the franchise’s strategy to build a country-wide fan-base. There were issues to sort through, but the idea made a lot of sense.
“If we could ever work it out with a stadium that would work, the people wanted us, and we thought it worked, we’d consider it,” Beeston said in an interview back then. “We can do television there, we can do radio there, and Montreal was a great baseball city.
“It’s nothing more than a concept, but a concept whose time could come sooner rather than later.”
Details of how the obstacles had been overcome should be revealed Tuesday at a news conference in Montreal, the primary one being how organizers will bring Olympic Stadium up to big-league standards.
The Big O hasn't hosted baseball since the Montreal Expos left for Washington after the 2004 season, and even then it's artificial turf and eroding facilities were problematic. The Blue Jays already play on one poor quality rug in Toronto, and transitioning from spring's natural grass to an even worse surface could be even more problematic.
One would assume a satisfactory solution is in place, since the Blue Jays and Mets would both plan to use their regulars deep into both games, which are expected to come right at the end of spring training.
Provided that's the case, capitalizing on the renewed passion for the Expos and baseball in Montreal should make the often dreary exhibition affairs a true event.
In July in Toronto, a large contingent of Expos fans staged a rally during a Blue Jays game for the second straight year meant to demonstrate the support for baseball in Montreal, and exhibition contests in their own city would serve their cause even more.
Also standing to benefit is the Montreal Baseball Project, fronted by Warren Cromartie, which is conducting a feasibility study on bringing a team back to the city permanently. A strong showing is sure to get noticed among the game's power-brokers.
All in all it will be far more exciting than a pair of games in Philadelphia against the Phillies, which is how the Blue Jays closed out this past spring.
One other intriguing possibility to consider is how these games may fuel the possibility of future exhibition contests in Vancouver. Those have been looked at, but it's unclear whether the refurbished B.C. Place could be configured for baseball.
"At some point in time we would consider playing in Montreal, as we would in Vancouver, as we would in the East Coast if we could put together a stadium out there," Beeston said in 2011. "It's something we'd like to do. I just don't know when."
Next March, it appears, is the answer.