MONTREAL — A tip for baseball-loving tourists in search of Montreal Expos memories: Pick the Bell Centre tour over the one at Olympic Stadium.
There’s more to see at the hockey rink than at the ballpark, and that’s not saying much. There is little evidence in Montreal that the Expos, who moved and became the Washington Nationals, ever existed.
A powder blue banner commemorating the French-speaking city’s former National League team hangs from the rafters in the home of the NHL’s famed Montreal Canadiens.
Across the banner are “Montreal Expos 1969-2004” and baseballs with Nos. 8, 10 and 30 — the retired numbers of Rusty Staub, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson and Tim Raines. (Staub and Dawson both wore No. 10.)
Claude Raymond thought something was askew when he dropped in on the Nationals’ spring training camp in Melbourne, Fla., after the team was relocated for the 2005 season.
“I went to a game with my son and I looked on the field and there’s Royce Clayton wearing No. 10, Marlon Anderson with No. 8 and Mike Stanton wearing No. 30. What is the thinking behind that?” said Raymond, a native Quebecer and former Expos reliever, broadcaster and coach.
“Those numbers were retired, but there they were on the field. That’s not right. We had some great teams and we weren’t bush leaguers. That makes me mad,” he said.
Steve Rogers, the Expos ace from 1973 to 1984, was back in town Wednesday along with Dawson, Raymond and a few other former teammates for a charity softball fund-raiser to combat Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Rogers is a special assistant to the executive director of the baseball players’ union and understands the lack of any evidence of the team’s existence is a sensitive matter in Montreal.
“It’s got to be hard for the fans that would really want to relive those memories to do something because the team is definitely not here anymore and it’s not coming back,” Rogers said. “That’s kind of like a dead-end street, and then obviously all it would do is remind those in the city that fought hardest to retain the franchise that they failed.”
Olympic Stadium awaits a rare full house next weekend, though it has nothing to do with baseball.
When the FIFA U-20 World Cup opens to a sellout soccer crowd there on June 30, the only outward evidence that the Expos called it home for the 27 years immediately after the 1976 Olympics are the orange lines painted under the rim of the stadium’s roof.
Those lines served as extensions of the stadium’s foul poles, a pair of orange nets now put away along with the blue outfield walls.
“I can only reminisce about when I played here,” said Dawson, the 1977 NL Rookie of the Year and a two-time MVP runner-up in 11 seasons with Montreal. “We drew fans. That’s when it was exciting here.”
Former Expos Bill Gullickson, Warren Cromartie, Bill Lee, Denis Boucher and Derek Aucoin also took part in the softball game on a field at Parc Jarry just a few hundred yards from the site of the Expos‘ home for their first eight seasons. The cozy little ballpark is now a tennis complex.
“If you say ‘Expos,’ people are likely to say, ‘Aren’t they the Nationals now?’ ” said Gullickson, who hadn’t returned to Montreal since 1990.
“It’s been a couple of years and the younger kids probably don’t know the Expos. I hate to see a town with fans like we had be without baseball. Who knows, maybe 30 years from now there’ll be a team up here,” he said.