Au revoir, Montreal

I watched as the ball fell into Mike Mordecai’s glove just behind third base on the carpet of le Stade Olympique. Mordecai, himself a former Expo, tentatively jogged to the dugout, wondering if there should be more. It was, after all, the final out of the final play for baseball in Montreal. There was some history to it.

Before he reached the dugout, a coach came out and took the ball from him, looked over toward the Expos dugout on the first-base side, and tossed a one-hopper to Montreal manager Frank Robinson, who acknowledged the gesture with his index finger in the air and a nod of his head.

With that, baseball in Montreal was over.

The listed attendance was 31,395. Most of the closer shots, particularly from the outfield and foul line cameras, showed packed stands. But after the game, the view from behind the plate showed an empty upper deck down the lines and in the outfield. In the end, about 15,000 fans could have walked up to the window minutes before the first pitch and gotten a ticket to the last baseball game in Montreal.

I nearly did that. Not for last night’s finale, but for Tuesday’s penultimate game. Late Monday night, the Washington news began to leak out, and I knew I had Tuesday off. It was nearly midnight, but I had to check. I quickly ruled out flights ($500) and the train schedule didn’t fit mine (I would have had to take an overnight trip back to be in New York Wednesday morning in order to get to work by 10 or 11). Greyhound was perfect: Just a little more than $100, roundtrip, I could be in Montreal after a nine-hour bus ride (shorter than the train, actually) and get on an 11:30 bus home that would allow me to be at work in time. But the bus north was leaving Port Authority at 8:30 or 9 a.m., and it was already midnight and I just didn’t have the energy to pull it off. It also occurred to me that I was doing this solely for the historical aspect of it and that Olympic Stadium is a dump. I was more upset at not getting to visit the truly historical original Comiskey Park before its demolition than I am about missing out on baseball in Montreal. As I sat around the house on Tuesday while the leftover rain and wind from Hurricane Jeanne darkened the skies and soaked the ground, I was glad I wasn’t spending the day on a bus cruising up through New York State to Quebec.

Tomorrow, the Expos begin a three-game series at Shea to close out their tenure as the Montreal Expos. They’ll play their final game in the same stadium in which they played their first in 1969. I haven’t yet decided if I’m going to make it out to Sunday’s finale. It will be a gameday decision.

I think baseball in Washington is a good idea. I don’t think Bud Selig and MLB went about it the right way — making Orioles owner Peter Angelos happy shouldn’t have been their first priority — but the important thing is that they got it done. And in my opinion, I think the Texas Rangers should continue to hold onto the Washington Senators name. There’s no need to go back there. That was last century, the team of Walter Johnson and, for a few years at least, Harmon Killebrew (in its first incarnation). That was the American League team. Of the possibilities, I think my favorite would be the Washington Grays, a permanent homage to the Negro Leagues and its teams and players. It would do as much, if not more, to honor them and Jackie Robinson than retiring every team’s No. 42.

As we enter this final weekend of the season, I’ve got a fantasy team in a money league with a secure hold on second place (for the second straight year, I’ll win back triple my entry fee) with an outside shot at the title if I can get good starts from my remaining pitchers (and those I can pick up off the wire and remain under the innings limit) and my hitters get hot and pick me up the points available in runs, home runs and the four-way tie I could cause with a one-point boost in batting average. It’s looking grim. In a public league, I’m currently tied for first and I’m dying to make it into a winner’s league next year. In a third league — points-based scoring — I secured first place two months ago.

Then there are the real pennant races. The Dodgers can wrap up the division with a win tonight and a Giants’ loss in San Diego. If they don’t, they’ll host San Francisco for the final three games of the season, needing to win at least one, at most two games. The Giants will still have a shot at the wild card, currently the Astros’ to lose with a 1/2-game lead over both San Fran and the Cubs (pending the outcome of Chicago’s game in progress against Cincinnati). Then there’s the AL West, which has the Angels up on the Athletics by one game entering this afternoon’s games. Tomorrow, the Angels will be in Oakland for a final-weekend showdown. So much drama!

What a great game.

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