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45 Years Ago Today, Major League Baseball Arrived In Canada
April 14, 2014
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The Expos play a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Olympic Stadium in 2004, their final season. In 1969, the Expos played their first home game — and the first MLB game in Canada — against the Cardinals at Jarry Park. (Photo: Charles Laberge/Getty Images)

On April 14, 1969, the Montreal Expos played their first game at home — bringing Major League Baseball  to Canada for the first time.

The Expos won that first home game 8-7 over the St. Louis Cardinals. Almost 30,000 people crowded into Jarry Park — a sellout. The game was broadcast across the country on CBC, and former prime minister Lester Pearson threw out the ceremonial first pitch. You can watch CBC's coverage from 1969 here:

The Expos started their first season a week earlier, on April 8, 1969 at Shea Stadium in New York. They beat the hometown Mets 11-10, after Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau threw out the first pitch. That day began a tumultuous history for the Expos, or "Nos Amours," as they would later become known to fans in Montreal. The first years were characterized by a team of eager rookies and ageing stars, often with more character than ability to win. They played in Jarry Park, a makeshift venue downtown that was widely considered too small (and too cold in April and September to comfortably watch baseball). Still, the Expos inspired a passionate fanbase. 

In 1977, the Expos moved in to Olympic Stadium, which gave them a permanent home. The stadium came with its own set of problems (a retractable roof that didn't retract, poor sight lines), but the next two decades were an especially exciting time to be an Expos fan. The team hosted a slew of exciting players, including Jeff Fassero, Andrés Galarraga, Marquis Grissom, Pedro Martínez, Larry Walker, Dennis Martínez, Vladimir Guerrero, Gary Carter and Andre Dawson. And in 1994, the Expos had the best record in baseball and high hopes of getting to the World Series — until the infamous players' strike stopped the season short, cancelled the playoffs, and started a decade's worth of slow decline. In 2004, the Expos played their last game in Montreal. The team was sold and moved to Washington, D.C. to become the Nationals.

The Expos weren't the first professional baseball team in Montreal, but they were the first at the major league level. Before them, the Montreal Royals played from 1896 to 1960. They were a minor league team best known for being the farm team of the Brooklyn (and later Los Angeles) Dodgers — and the team on which Jackie Robinson first broke baseball's colour barrier.

And the success of the Expos led to a second Major League Baseball franchise coming to Canada: the Toronto Blue Jays, which joined the league in 1977. Last month, the Blue Jays and the New York Mets played two exhibition games in Montreal at Olympic Stadium — the first time Major League baseball was played in the city in a decade. In the clip below, you can listen to the game (specifically, a Melky Cabrera home-run) being called in French by longtime Expos announcer Rodger Brulotte:

As for the Expos, there's not much left but nostalgia. In that spirit, there's an excellent oral history about the last game at Olympic Stadium over on Sportsnet, featuring commentary from many of the star players and coaches on that 2004 team.  

And Grantland writer Jona Keri has a just-released book about the Expos called Up, Up and Away. You can find an excerpt from the book here

There's also a group trying to bring baseball back to Montreal, which would likely require a new stadium and a lot of money. It's a distant hope for diehard Expos fans — but it's hope nonetheless.


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