ORLANDO, Fla. – Bud Selig praised plans for a pair of exhibition games in Montreal next spring but offered nothing concrete to encourage those working to bring baseball back to the city.
Speaking after the owners meeting broke Thursday afternoon, the commissioner described the two-game pre-season series between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Mets set for March 28-29 at Olympic Stadium as “wonderful” while adding that “Paul Beeston and I had a conversation and I think it’s great, I really do.”
The games will be the first big-league action in Montreal since the Expos played their final game – a 9-1 loss to the Marlins – on Sept. 29, 2004. They left for Washington and became the Nationals after the season, and in recent years a groundswell of nostalgia has rekindled interest in the Expos.
Long-time Expos favourite Warren Cromartie is the face of a group called the Montreal Baseball Project, which is conducting a feasibility study intended to show that there’s enough support in the city to make a return of big-league baseball a success.
“I am paying close attention to it, it’s great,” Selig replied when asked what kind of attention he was paying to the process.
“Listen, this comes from them, not from us,” he added later. “We don’t have any clubs moving and we certainly don’t have any expansion plans. I give them a lot of credit, there are people up there who really believe in this and good for them. I think it’s great.”
During their conversation, Beeston updated Selig on how well tickets have been selling for the exhibition games and of how an excitement for baseball is growing again in Montreal.
As for the efforts to bring a team back, the Blue Jays president and CEO said the chances of success hinge on any potential ownership’s group ability to be ready when an opportunity arises.
“The timing has to be right – if a team wants to leave, OK, or the league wants to expand,” said Beeston. “To be honest, 30 isn’t the ideal number of teams, 32 is a much better number. Because you play every day, 32 would really make it nice. And Montreal is a big market and a great city, it’s a world class city and it’s got a history of baseball.”
While obtaining a franchise is the primary and obvious stumbling block, another significant challenge is getting a new baseball-only stadium built. Previous efforts failed and helped seal the Expos’ sad fate.
Beeston believes the Expos’ departure hurt the Blue Jays because it soured some Canadians on baseball, removed a natural interleague rival and perhaps kept some kids from taking up the game in Quebec.
That’s why he says bringing in another team “would be fantastic for the country.”
“One of the things that always amazed me was that people think because we’re in Canada we don’t know anything about baseball,” said Beeston. “It’s not only annoying, it’s incorrect – there’s a high level of knowledge about the game. So you’re not taking a new game like Aussie Rules Football and saying here are the rules, here’s how you play. …
“What they need is a stadium and if they get a stadium Montreal is a great baseball city. I’d love to see baseball back in Montreal. It’s good for us, it’s good for Canada and the fans would really love it.”