MONTREAL â€” Tim Raines remembers when the Expos were as hot a ticket as the Canadiens and sees no reason baseball should not return to Montreal.
The former Expos outfielder, who was voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in January, is hoping a movement to bring back Major League Baseball succeeds.
“I was here for 12 years and the Big O (Olympic Stadium) was probably the most exciting ballpark in baseball,” Raines said Thursday. “Sure, we did it a little different, but as far as fans having fun going to the ballpark, I don’t think there was another organization that did it the way we did it.
“Maybe we loved hockey a bit more, but baseball was fine.”
Raines is to be feted when, for the fourth year in a row, the Toronto Blue Jays end their pre-season with a pair of games at Olympic Stadium; this year against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday night and Saturday afternoon.
He was to drop the ceremonial faceoff puck before the Canadiens game Thursday night and then he is to be honoured before the Blue Jays’ first game.
The gifted hitter and base-stealer was one of the most popular players in the Expos’ history when he played from 1979 to 1990 before moving onto the Chicago White Sox. He didn’t hesitate to say that he will enter the Hall of Fame as an Expo, where he will join ex-teammates Andre Dawson and Gary Carter.
He was excited by a report by The Canadian Press quoting a source close to efforts to bring baseball back who said all was in place, including ownership, support from at least two levels of government and plans for a new stadium. All that was left was for MLB to approve expansion or move an existing club to Montreal.
Raines said he still doesn’t understand why the city lost it’s team in 2004, when the failing club was moved to Washington and renamed the Nationals.
“Montreal doesn’t need anyone to tell them that they’re a baseball city,” said Raines. “All we need now is the commissioner to give us the go-ahead to have a team and hopefully that will happen soon.”
Stephen Bronfman, one of the businessmen on the record as trying to get a team, said plans are not quite as advanced as the report said, but that the group can meet any requirements MLB may demand.
He said they won’t build a stadium or finalize other plans until they know they will have a team. But once they have one, the rest should fall into place. Funds can be found to buy a team or pay an expansion fee and to build a stadium. The team could play at Olympic Stadium until a new ball park is built, he added.
He did not say how much public money would go into the project, however.
“We’ve been doing our work,” said Bronfman. “We’ve been quiet and the mayor (Denis Coderre) has been quiet and the reason is that we don’t know.
“We’re ready if we get the call. Then the wheels get in motion. If it happens in two years or seven years, it’s all good because I think it’s going to happen.”
The Blue Jays are ending their pre-season in Montreal for a fourth year in a row. Previous two-game sets have drawn crowds of nearly 100,000, both to see top-level ball for the first time in more than a decade but also to show MLB the fans want baseball back.
Bill Beacon, The Canadian Press