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Expos' Reaction

For Fans, It's Time To Say Goodbye

By Dave Sheinin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 30, 2004; Page D15

MONTREAL, Sept. 29 -- The Montreal Expos were buried on Wednesday night, at the end of a three-hour wait that came complete with a final score: Florida Marlins 9, Expos 1. The ceremony was attended by 31,395 mourners who gathered to pay their respects, shed a few tears and celebrate a life marked by brief moments of greatness, long stretches of woefulness and beaucoup de bon temps.

"Nos Amours," as they were known locally -- "Our Beloved Ones" -- are gone. They were 35 years old. The cause of death: gross neglect. God rest their soul.


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"It's like you knew you had a loved one on life support," Expos President Tony Tavares said, "and you knew the time was going to come when he or she was going to pass on. But you don't really feel the impact of that until it actually occurs. And it has occurred to the people of Montreal."

The body was laid to rest, late Wednesday night, in a steel-and-concrete, space-age tomb on the outskirts of town: Olympic Stadium.

The soul, for those inclined to believe in reincarnation, is to be reborn next April in Washington. Officially, then, it is not a death, but relocation. And to fans in Washington, who saw their own team yanked away in 1971, Opening Day 2005 thus will be celebrated as a birth -- baseball returning to the nation's capital after a 33-year absence.

To the people of Montreal, or at least to those last few who cared, Wednesday night's proceedings were merely the end of a long, slow, painful death, one that became official with Wednesday's announcement that the team was being moved.

"Hard. It's hitting me hard," said Expos roving coach and former pitcher Claude Raymond. "I've dropped a few tears. It's the end. A lot of people don't know what they're going to miss. I know what I'm going to miss: I'm going to miss baseball in Montreal."

The last breath of the Expos came at 10 p.m. exactly and no one knew exactly what to do. So everyone in the stands stood as one and cheered. Someone held up a sign: "We Miss You Already." The players gathered in front of their dugout and waved, then a microphone was brought out and one by one the players stepped in front of it and thanked the fans.

Just as the Senators' final game in Washington -- 33 years ago Thursday -- ended in a forfeit when fans stormed the fields with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, some were worried this contest would never see its conclusion. Players spoke freely before the game of being concerned for their safety.

In the top of the third inning with the Marlins leading, 5-0, a small white object came flying out of the stands near third base and bounced near the second base bag.

Expos Manager Frank Robinson emerged from his dugout, discussed the matter with the umpires and pulled his team off the field, which drew a loud chorus of boos. Some 10 minutes later, both teams returned to the field.

If every Expos game drew a crowd this big, no one would be mourning the franchise's demise. The Expos have been accustomed to four-figure attendance of late, but on Wednesday night, sections of stands that had not been visited by rear ends since Opening Day (or perhaps $1 hot dog night) were packed for the Expos' final home game (they play three games this weekend in New York).

Before the game fans were allowed onto the outfield turf to get autographs from players seated behind tables. The lines snaked around the outfield. Essentially, many fans took a seat and laid sprawled out on the artificial turf soaking in the moment.

Others sat and watched. One held up a sign: "EXPOS HALL OF SHAME." Underneath were pictures of Commissioner Bud Selig and former Expos owners Claude Brochu and Jeffrey Loria. At the bottom, the punch line: "Merci, de rien." ("Thanks for nothing").

The pregame ceremony included taped messages from past fan favorites -- such as Moises Alou, Marquis Grissom, Cliff Floyd and former manager Felipe Alou -- played on the video screen.

Eventually, the scoreboard locked in on the standing on the final day of the 1994 season -- Aug. 11, when the players went on strike with the Expos holding the best record in baseball and a six-game lead in the National League East division. The season would never resume, the World Series would be canceled and the Expos would never again finish a season in first place or gain the city's full trust.

As fans cheered the sight of those standings, a small gathering of 1994 Expos alumni stood on the warning track in left field and pulled back a black curtain to reveal a banner hung on the wall: "1994 Meillure Equipe du Baseball/Best Team in Baseball."

It is perhaps easy to believe that nobody in Montreal cared about baseball anymore. But that is not true. There numbers simply declined as to be almost irrelevant. And now, they are heartsick.

"Embrace it," said Mitch Melnick, a lifelong Expos fan and the team's radio play-by play man, offering words of advice for Washington baseball fans. "Embrace the concept of major league baseball. There weren't enough people in this town who did that. It's like taking your husband or wife for granted. At some point, they leave you."

And so, as you celebrate Washington's gain, remember also Montreal's loss, and understand that the void, which was the absence of baseball, has not been merely filled, but shifted onto someone else.


© 2004 The Washington Post Company