Blue Jays find lukewarm support in Montreal, former home of Expos

Few fans in Montreal are jumping on the Blue Jays bandwagon despite cheering for ‘Canada's team’ during preseason games, writes Thomas Daigle.

Few Montreal fans jump on Jays bandwagon despite cheering for ‘Canada's team’ during preseason

The Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets played at the Olympic Stadium field in Montreal on March 28, 2014. Toronto preseason games played at the stadium have filled the seats with 100,000 baseball fans for the past two springs. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

The Blue Jays' bandwagon may be picking up hitchhikers on the road to the World Series, but in Montreal it's picking up something else: dirty looks.

Many long-time baseball fans here harbour deep-seated hostility toward the Jays. And that flies in the face of the team's claim to being a truly "national" club.

"Just sticking a maple leaf" on the team's logo doesn't mean it "represents Canada," said David McGimpsey, the Montreal-based author of Imagining Baseball: America's Pastime and Popular Culture. 

Fans wear Expos uniforms as they watch the Toronto Blue Jays in a pre-season game against the New York Mets in 2014 in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz)
"For a Montrealer to cheer for the Blue Jays, that's just unacceptable."

Baseball city?

Denis Coderre, Montreal's baseball-loving mayor, has said sellout crowds at Olympic Stadium for preseason Blue Jays games prove this is a "baseball city."

Montreal mayor (and baseball fan) Denis Coderre says Montrealers should cheer for the Jays during this post-season. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)
It's where Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos and catcher Russell Martin both learned to love the game.

The Toronto organization has even publicly supported Montreal's bid for a new Major League team.

Despite all that — and the Jays' newfound success on the field — Montreal sports bar manager Terry Vasilakos says he's only noticed a "small spike" in the number of patrons coming to watch Jays games.

"People (here) are more excited for hockey to start," Vasilakos said.

Four decades of history

Gabriel and Anya Taraboulsy show off their matching Montreal Expos tattoos. The brother and sister went to games together when they were younger, and say they've been waiting a decade for baseball to return to Olympic Stadium. (Ainslie MacLellan / CBC)
The Montreal Expos laid claim to the title of "Canada's team" seven years before Toronto joined Major League Baseball in 1976.

Playing in separate leagues, the two teams rarely met on the field. It was the Jays' support of a plan to relocate Nos Amours in 2004 that would ultimately leave a sour taste in the mouths of Montrealers to this day.

Hip hop artist and Expos fan Annakin Slayd refuses to wear a Jays cap, 11 years after the Expos left Montreal. (Thomas Daigle/CBC)
"I do hold that against them," McGimpsey said.

After the Expos' move to Washington, D.C., pro baseball wouldn't return to Montreal's Olympic Stadium for 10 years. Ironically, Toronto would be the team to fill the seats with 100,000 baseball fans for preseason games the past two springs.

The countless Expos caps and jerseys in the stands spoke volumes about who Montrealers were really there to support.

The Jays will take to the Big O field again next April to face the Boston Red Sox.

Expos caps are more common than Jays caps in Montreal to this day . (Thomas Daigle/CBC)
In the meantime, Mayor Coderre is encouraging Montrealers to cheer for Toronto this postseason, partly for the benefit of this city's future club.

"Go for the Blue Jays, because I already have a deal with Russell Martin," Coderre said. "When the Expos come back, he will play for Montreal."

Thomas Daigle is a national reporter for CBC News based in Montreal, covering stories for The National, CBC News Network and all other platforms. As a child, Thomas had a Blue Jays team picture on his wall and an Expos cap on his head.