'A lot of heavy lifting to be done' before Montreal Expos can return, says sports writer

There's magic in the air for Montreal Expos fans, after a recent study concluded the conditions are ripe for major league baseball's return to the city. We talk with the man leading the charge behind the team's comeback, about just how possible it is.

Despite caution, 'there is optimism and it's well-founded,' according to Jonah Keri

A fan wears a Montreal Expos jersey at a Toronto Blue Jays game in 2014. The Expos left Montreal in 2004, but exciting is building for a return. (Ryan Remiorz/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

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Baseball fans may be "super psyched" about the potential return of the Montreal Expos, but one sports writer warns that enthusiasm doesn't always get rewarded.

"Reaching out to enthusiastic fans and hearing them say: 'Yes we want a ballpark, and we want a team' — that's great, but there's a lot of heavy lifting to be done," said Jonah Keri, a writer for CBS Sports and the author of Up, Up, and Away, a book about the Montreal Expos.

But, he told The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti, "there is optimism and it's well-founded."

A report published last week suggested Montreal has everything required to support a major league baseball team over the long-term. The report consulted with fans and local business leaders — gathering 14,000 responses to a 20-minute survey.

Stephen Bronfman leads the consortium of businesses behind the report. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Stephen Bronfman, who leads the consortium of businesses behind the report, said they're doing everything possible to be ready if Major League Baseball comes knocking. One option is the relocation of the Tampa Bay Rays to Canada. Plans for the Florida team's new ballpark fell apart recently, increasing the likelihood they could move.

Bronfman, ​the executive chairman of Claridge Inc., said he wanted to "temper the excitement," but is hoping for a positive outcome.

His father, Charles Bronfman, founded the Expos in 1968, and owned the team for 22 years. After years in decline, the team eventually relocated to Washington D.C. in 2004, becoming the Nationals.

History of baseball would very different if the 1994 strike never happened, Jonah Keri tells Anna Maria Tremonti. 1:39

Resurrecting the team is a passion project, said Bronfman, not least for the fans who remember their heyday.

"I can't temper my excitement," said life-long Expos fan Perry Giannias.

Giannias is founder of the Expos Fest annual charity gala. He also owns the world's largest collection of Expos memorabilia.

"I think it's just a matter of time, and I hope for Tampa Bay," he said. "I'm really super-psyched."

Optimism is 'well-founded'

This isn't the first time that fans have had their hopes up, but Keri said that there were several reasons why this time might be different.

The economics of the game have changed, he explained. While the team's demise was partly because of flagging fan interest, nowadays revenue from lucrative media deals means attendance at games isn't as important.

"There has been rumblings ... that Bell, the very large telecommunications giant, could be involved and it would make a lot of sense, the same way that Rogers owning the Blue Jays makes a lot of sense," he told Tremonti.

Life-long Expos fan Perry Giannias gives Anna Maria Tremonti a rundown of the team's great players. 1:09

He also pointed out that after Charles Bronfman sold the team in the early '90s, its new owners didn't support the team — either financially or in spirit — in quite the same way.  

Keri also said that Montreal itself has changed.

"It's younger, it's entrepreneurial, it's really up-and-coming in terms of the business community," he said,

"It has a different flavour to it, such that now there is a belief that it could be supported, in a way that maybe it wasn't supported before."

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Idella Sturino, Richard Raycraft and John Chipman.


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