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Closing Down Shop in Montreal

Finality of Move Saddens Employees

By Barry Svrluga
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 17, 2004; Page D01

MONTREAL -- Claude Delorme first put together the binder three baseball seasons ago. Twenty-six pages, countless tasks. The Montreal Expos, the team for which Delorme serves as executive vice president for business affairs, was supposed to evaporate into thin air, back when Major League Baseball planned to buy the team and then eliminate it. Seemed like someone should have a list of things to do if and when that happened, so the binder was born.

Sell furniture. Check.

A worker watches while a crew lays down turf at Olympic Stadium, former home of the Expos, for a Canadian Football League game. (John Morstad For The Washington Post)

_____MLB Basics_____
Team index
Music Downloads
MLB Section

Meet with concessionaire. Check.

Lay off employees. Check, but not without a knot in your stomach like none you have ever known.

"Before, it was just a working document," Delorme said earlier this month. "Now, it's subject to implementation."

Even as MLB's plan to move the Expos from Montreal to Washington awaits a vote by the D.C. Council on a new stadium financing plan, there is the distinct sense of finality in the team's former home. The remaining staff works in quiet offices at Olympic Stadium just a floor above the locker room and training facilities, where the fitness equipment already bears tape indicating its future destination: "RFK weight room." In Washington, Expos President Tony Tavares is trying to set up team offices and hire personnel with the political upheaval as an ominous backdrop. In Montreal, the backdrop is that of careers ending, of people looking for something else to do. "In our department, nobody would leave the team if it was still here," said Chantal Bunnett, the team's scoreboard operator, a native of Montreal who had been with the Expos for 19 years, since she was 20. "We just loved it. It was probably one of the greatest jobs you could have in your life. It's sad."

Delorme himself has worked for the team for 24 years, more than half his life, ever since a summer internship turned into a full-time job. It is the only full-time workplace he has ever known. And while the political wrangling in the capital city of another nation might cause headaches and angst for residents and officials there, Delorme can only turn to his binder -- which could be titled, "How to Close a Major League Baseball Franchise" -- for the kind of faux solace that comes with total immersion in a task.

"You get very attached to everybody after being here for 24 years," Delorme said. "But things have been so intense, I'm not sure I've had the real opportunity to say to myself, 'Take a step back.' I haven't had the opportunity to say, 'You know what? It's over.' "

With that, Delorme leaned back at his desk, smiled, and laughed.

"One thing you'll notice about Claude," Tavares said, "is that when things are getting to him, he tends to make a joke and laugh about it. That's the way he deals with it. But it's been tough. No question, it's been tough."

Toughest, though, for the rank-and-file employees, some of whom don't know what they'll do next. Because immigration laws don't allow most employees -- those without a specific skill, such as baseball talent evaluation -- to move with the team to the United States, the Expos are trying to help with the transition to other careers in Canada. The team hired an outside consulting firm to come to the offices and work with employees on how to write a résumé, how to conduct themselves in an interview, how to go about moving on with their lives.

"They've been detached from the real world," Delorme said. "We're trying to facilitate their transition from leaving the Expos to getting new work, on down the line."

That includes some employees who have been with the club since 1969, its first year. Monique Giroux first came to work for the Expos as an intern when she was still in college at Sir George Williams University, now called Concordia University. She has worked in the media services department ever since, through every ownership group, every general manager, every manager, countless players.

"Now, I really don't know," Giroux said. "I don't know what I'll do next. Wait and see, I guess. Wait and see."

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