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Rob Manfred says Montreal and Mexico City are his front-runners for MLB expansion

Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred is partial to Montreal and Mexico City as possible league expansion sites. (Morry Gash/Associated Press)

Ever since the franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos left for Washington, D.C., fans of the red, white and blue have clamored for Major League Baseball to return to “La Metropole.”

Montreal’s movement to return baseball to the city received high-endorsement Thursday from baseball’s top executive when he named Montreal as one of his two personal front-runners.

Justin Trudeau is still bummed the Expos became the Nationals

“I think baseball’s a growth business and growth businesses tend to expand,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred told CSN Chicago’s Jason Benetti and Steve Stone Thursday during the third inning of a Red Sox-White Sox game. “For us, I think there’s a couple of things that we need to get through. We need to get a new labor deal. We have a couple of franchises, Tampa and Oakland, that need to get their stadium situations resolved before we do that. Once we’re passed that, I would love to see us expand.

“I think there are international locations. My personal, sort of, front-runner would be either Montreal or Mexico City where we could go plan a sustained basis. I think it would be great for the growth of the game. I think Mexico City in particular would be new ground for us obviously.”

The Toronto Blue Jays have played exhibition games in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium each of the last three years to large fanfare. The reigning American League East champions played two games against the Boston Red Sox that drew more than 106,000 total fans. Two-game exhibition sets against the New York Mets in 2014 and Cincinnati Reds in 2015 each drew approximately 96,000 fans.

In late March, the Houston Astros and San Diego Padres played two games in Mexico City to the tune of 11,745 total fans in MLB’s Mexico City Series.

The capital city is home to Mexican Baseball League’s Mexico City Red Devils, who have averaged less than 4,000 fans per game every season since their 5,200-seat home venue, Estadio Fray Nano, opened in 2014. Only six of the 16 stadiums in the MBL hold more than 10,000 fans, and only one stadium in the league — Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey in Northern Mexico — has the capacity for more than 20,000 spectators.

Why do the Montreal Expos, nonexistent since 2004, have an active Twitter feed?

Attendance was an issue for the Expos, who never averaged 29,000 fans per game in a season during their 36 years in Montreal. Even in 1994 when the team led all of baseball with a 74-40 record during a strike season, attendance was 24,543 per game, sixth-most in Expos history.

MLB hasn’t expanded since 1998, when the Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Devil Rays debuted.

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