Blue Jays' Russell Martin still has hope for baseball in hometown of Montreal
Toronto catcher returns for pre-season tilts against Cardinals at the Big O
Montreal looks no closer to getting a major league baseball team back than the first time Russell Martin visited as a player in 2014, but the Toronto Blue Jays catcher hasn't given up hope.
Fans of the former Montreal Expos, a team that moved to Washington D.C. after the 2004 season, have turned out to Olympic Stadium in droves for Blue Jays pre-season games in hope of demonstrating to Major League Baseball that they deserve to get baseball back, so far to no avail.
"It would definitely be nice to see baseball back in Montreal but I feel like it's a complicated thing and there a lot of moving parts," Martin said Monday before the Blue Jays faced the St. Louis Cardinals. "But of course there's a part of me that would love to see baseball back in Montreal and hopefully be a part of it somehow.
"But right now my focus is on the upcoming season and I'm trying to take care of business with the Blue Jays."
Martin, who was drafted by the Expos in 2000 but never signed with the team, is the most prominent Montreal-area product to play in the major leagues. The bilingual Martin was born in Toronto, but split most of his childhood between Montreal and Ottawa.
On Monday night, Max Schrock tripled in a three-run eighth inning as the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Toronto Blue Jays 5-3.
A crowd of 25,335 turned out at Olympic Stadium for the first of a two-game set to close out the pre-season, with the second meeting set for Tuesday night.
Considers visits to the Big O a treat
He considers the visits to the Big O as a treat, although not quite as many fans were expected for the two-game set with St. Louis as in previous years, when more than 40,000 turned out. This year, the games are on weeknights instead of the usual Friday and Saturday.
"It's always fun to play at home in front of family and the fans in Montreal," said Martin. "It's not quite the same this year on a Monday and for sure it's not the same feeling as the first time, but it's still really special."
The games have often been emotional experiences for Martin, not just for the ovations he gets from the crowd. In 2015, his father, musician Russell Martin Sr., played the Canadian anthem on a saxophone before a game.
Time may be running out on Martin ever playing for a future Montreal major league team in the still-unlikely event that it happens. The four-time all-star is 35 and his batting average and run production have been slipping in recent seasons.
Montreal's chances of luring a team likely favour relocation of a struggling franchise like Tampa Bay or Oakland than in expansion. There is an energetic group pushing for it. Potential team owners have shown interest. But the movement may have been set back when Denis Coderre, a fervent baseball fan, was unseated as mayor in November in an upset.
Bringing baseball back would require an ownership group and a new stadium that would likely require some government backing.
Montreal a talking point around the sport
One thing its supporters have succeeded at is making Montreal at least a talking point around the sport.
The Expos joined the National League as an expansion team in 1969 and produced some brilliant teams starting in the late 1970s, although they made it to the post-season only once in 1981. That the end of the 1994 campaign was wiped out in August by a labour dispute with the Expos leading the league remains a sore point with fans.
"Even earlier today the guys were wondering 'do you think there's going to be a team back in Montreal?' " said Martin. "Those are the questions that I really wish I knew the answer to.
"There's been a team before so it certainly means there could be a team again. But it's not my decision. Fans showing their support, showing up to the game, can only help. But it's a business. I don't know everything that goes into making those kinds of decisions and what it takes politically and that kind of stuff.
"But on a personal level, being from here, one day of course I'd like there to be a team."