Imagine that there was a rumor that a city with a deep baseball history stretching back to the days of Jackie Robinson was interested in the Rays. That a city which had provided reasonable support to their franchise during their peak years, and has a rabid fanbase waiting for a team to return to their location wanted to bring the Rays there. Already, there are season tickets being sold for even the possibility that a team may return there, and make that city it’s home. In fact, over 45,000 tickets were sold for two exhibition games in the city. That city? Montreal.
Back before Jeffrey Loria was lining his pockets by turning the Miami Marlins into his personal ATM and fleecing the city of Miami into essentially giving him a new ballpark, Loria was practicing his trade on the Montreal Expos. After purchasing the Expos, he systematically got rid of every higher priced player, alienating the fanbase while getting rid of every popular player on the squad. Finally, with his part in the destruction of the Expos completed, he essentially traded the team for ownership of the Marlins, turning the once beloved Expos into baseball’s orphans. Relocation to Washington was just the final nail in the coffin.
Now, nearly a decade after the disastrous end of baseball in Montreal, the city is being considered as a true destination for a team that may be looking to relocate. Not only has former Expos player Warren Cromartie taken it on himself to found a group looking to persuade a team to come back to Montreal, but Rays owner Stuart Sternberg stated that he is convinced that not only could baseball work in the city, but that he fully expects a team to be there within the next twenty years.
Could it be a coincidence that the Rays present lease on Tropicana Field is over within that time frame? With the Rays attendance issues, and the lack of progress towards a new stadium, the Rays have been considered the team most likely to relocate. Cities such as Charlotte, Indianapolis and San Antonio have been considered potential destinations should the Rays move, yet Montreal may actually be the better choice.
Could baseball once again be viable in Montreal? Perhaps a team with a stars such as Evan Longoria, and, potentially, David Price, along with an exciting core of young players, could draw well in a city that is seemingly starved for baseball. Bringing in a team that has not only turned into a perennial contender, but would also spark an instant rivalry with Toronto, may serve to keep interest in the club.
As it stands, relocating to Montreal is, at best, a remote possibility for the Rays. All their efforts to secure a new ballpark have centered on the Tampa Bay region, and the ownership appears committed to attempting to prove that the Rays can be viable in the Tampa – St. Pete area. Any potential move would come with its own list of troubles, and the situation in Montreal may not be any better than what the Rays presently have. Not only would the Rays have to once again contend with an outdated stadium in Olympic Stadium, but the Expos attendance numbers were actually quite similar to those that the Rays presently face. Also, the Expos suffered through poor television ratings, and did not even have their games televised during the last couple of seasons. The Rays, meanwhile, are one of the most watched baseball teams on television, showing that there is interest in the club. It is just a matter of getting fans to head out to the ballpark instead of watching at home.
A decade ago, baseball appeared to be dead in Montreal. Now, it may just have a future. But while a potential resurrection of the Expos could occur, it seems unlikely that it will be due to the Rays moving up north.