The city of Montreal just endured a baseball renaissance as the Toronto Blue Jays brought the final leg of their spring training to the Olympic Stadium.
Even though the Blue Jays have installed this Montreal series against the New York Mets as a way to expand their national footprint, the series has morphed into a celebration of Montreal baseball history, with Expos greats being honoured and Friday night’s game being dedicated to Gary Carter.
All in all, the weekend has re-opened the conversation of baseball in Montreal and the return of the Expos. Will it happen? It’s tough to say, with so many unknown answers at the moment. However while the weekend in Montreal hasn’t done much to solidify the return of the MLB, it has definitely gotten people talking about it.
The city that was arguably effected the most by the demise of baseball in Montreal, other than Montreal itself, was Ottawa.
Once the Lynx severed ties with the legendary Expos franchise ending a 10-year affiliation that couldn’t have been articulated any better, their own health was doomed to failure. 4 years later, the team relocated into another sublime environment – Allentown, Pennsylvania; where the now IronPigs continue to find success.
The consistencies don’t stop there either. Both the Lynx and the Expos struggled to make the postseason in their stretches, which didn’t help the success at the box office.
For many teams, winning is essential. There are very few sports organizations that can get away with constant losing. If the team in question isn’t called the Toronto Maple Leafs or the New York Yankees, they’ll have a tough time.
In Ottawa, the Lynx were extremely successful early, winning a championship in their 3rd season. However after that season, the Expos prospect pool weakened which sent the Lynx into a downward spiral.
The following is from a 2010 piece by Todd Devlin chronicling the history of baseball in Ottawa.
By 1996, the honeymoon was officially over.
To make matters worse, that year saw the tide turn on the field as well, as the Lynx plummeted in the standings. After posting a 215-211 record, along with a pair of post-season appearances and a league title during their first three years, the team proceeded to spend four of the next five seasons in the IL East basement, compiling a dismal 295-415 record (.415 winning percentage) during that span.
In 2000, the Lynx hit rock bottom, finishing with a franchise-worst 53-88 record.
A losing team will nearly always drive fans away. And that was certainly the case in Ottawa.
In the first three post-championship seasons, attendance at Lynx games saw a remarkably steady — yet significant — decline, dropping an average of 22.6% per season. In 1997, just four years after breaking a 46-year-old attendance record, the Lynx dropped to last place in the league (average crowd of 4,165 per game). Sadly, that was a distinction the team held each and every year until the franchise moved to Pennsylvania 10 years later.
It was a remarkable decline – one that didn’t stumble too far from that of their major league affiliate in Montreal.
The parallels don’t stop at the team’s on-field play either. Looking at the struggle to find a suitable owner to return a major league team to Montreal, the similar problem arose when the Ottawa group Champions of Ottawa Baseball was looking to bring a new, affiliated ball-club to Ottawa.
While the cost of renovating Ottawa Stadium was simply too much for taxpayers, another heavy issue was the lack of a local owner, or a majority investor after Nolan Ryan’s group backed out from bringing what I was told would be a Texas Rangers affiliate to the ballpark on Coventry Road.
But let’s not forget the Stadium issue as well. The unreasonable cost to bring Ottawa Stadium up to Double-A standards draws parallels with the very ballpark that Lynx players aspired to play at.
When built, the Olympic Stadium was the most costly ballpark in history. It housed the opening ceremonies of an Olympic games. At the opening of the 1976 games, Olympic Stadium was a state-of-the-art shrine to sport.
Ottawa Stadium was similar in proportion to Olympic Stadium in terms of quality, only its grand stage was the International League. During the inaugural campaign of the Ottawa Lynx, JetForm Park was the nicest ballpark in the league. It was highly regarded as a model for other ballparks to follow.
Today, however, we have seen the stock of both stadiums take a drastic dive.
Olympic Stadium is referred to by many as a white elephant that is in dire need of renovations and structural improvements, while Ottawa Stadium requires hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring it up to standard for any type of entertainment-based baseball.
Both of these cities require a facelift to be considered for the level of baseball that they are ready to endure. The only difference, which is fairly substantial, comes in the status of the two cities as a host to baseball.
Ottawa is currently in a much better situation that the former home of the Expos, with a minor league team lined up in the Can-Am League. However, with a grassroots effort already present, Montreal appears to be on its way to one day hosting baseball again.
Hopefully, both Ottawa and Montreal experience a shift in the tide and baseball will find its way back onto the front burner, just as it was 90 years ago.