Olympic Stadium Prepares For MLB Return As Blue Jays Look To Extend Reach
For the "first time in nearly a decade, a diamond has been set up in the Olympic Stadium, and even if the teams that will occupy it" Friday night and Saturday afternoon are the Blue Jays and Mets, in "many ways this weekend is about the Montreal Expos," according to Sean Gordon of the GLOBE & MAIL. The weekend will serve the purpose of reminding MLB "dignitaries, potential financial backers and players this town can still fill a stadium to watch America’s pastime." Late Baseball HOFer Gary Carter "will be honoured in a ceremony" before Friday’s game, and prior to Saturday’s game "an event will be held to celebrate the Expos squad that was broadly considered the best team in baseball when the 1994 season was abruptly cut short by a players’ strike." The Blue Jays are working with Evenko, "the concert-promotion arm of the partnership that owns" the Canadiens, and have "moved close to 40,000 tickets for Friday." Attendance on Saturday "should top 50,000" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/28). Former MLBer Warren Cromartie, who oversees the Montreal Baseball Project, said, "The momentum that has been gained has surprised me and everyone else. I never in my wildest dreams believed there would be this much noise." Blue Jays President & CEO Paul Beeston said, "I can't believe it will go unnoticed. If there was ever an opportunity (to bring a team back to Montreal) the fact that they are supporting the games the way they are has to stand them in good stead" (SPORTSNET.ca, 3/27).
SAVOR THE MOMENT: While the games at Olympic Stadium bring hope to people of Montreal that MLB might consider returning to the city, baseball writer Jonah Keri notes the event was organized by the Blue Jays because team execs are "seeking to expand their reach west into Canada and Quebec is a huge market." Keri said, "If they could even have 5% penetration that would be huge and they’re making a go of it. That’s what it comes down to." He added fans at the game "are going to be people mostly wearing Expos jerseys." Keri: "I don’t know that the Jays are going to get much traction, but I also don’t have any illusion that MLB is watching closely thinking, 'Oh well if they can put 40,000 people in a stadium they need a team.' I think that the biggest upshot of this will be a chance to party for a weekend, a chance to welcome baseball back to Montreal." Keri noted MLB "will be watching, I just don’t know that any decisions will be made, certainly not in the near future" (Jillian Fay, Staff Writer).
HAVING A FIELD DAY: Blue Jays VP/Special Projects Howard Starkman said that when team execs were approached by Evenko last year, the "big concern they had was the field." Starkman added, "We think our players will like it and we’re very pleased with the work that’s been done by Evenko and the stadium people. The artificial turf, one of the things we’re always concerned with are the seams so the players don’t trip over them. But they’ve done a nice job, not very noticeable at all." Evenko Project Manager Simon Arsenault said that work "started a month ago because the pitcher’s mound operates on a hydraulic system that can be lowered into the ground." In Montreal, Brenda Branswell noted the mound "still had old dirt from 10 years ago on it that was dry and compacted and had to be removed." Arsenault said, "You see the pitcher’s mound, home plate and the bases -- it looks simple, but it’s a huge amount of work. It’s about 10 to 12 employees who will work seven consecutive days -- full days -- to build the bases and the mound" (Montreal GAZETTE, 3/27).