Opinion | The Tampa Bay Rays have taunted Montreal baseball fans before. But this time it feels different

For the past 17 years, the only major league baseball in Montreal has been half a dozen exhibition games hosted by the Blue Jays at the end of spring training.

Soon, however, the real could return.

Since that first couple of games against the Mets in 2014 drew nearly 100,000 fans to the Olympic Stadium, eyebrows have been raised and interest has been piqued in bringing Major League Baseball back to La Belle province, with billionaire Stephen Bronfman, son of Charles, longtime Expos owner, front and center.

The idea back then was that Montreal would build a new open-air stadium by the water, a cozy place with 30,000 to 35,000 seats, and get an expansion franchise, when MLB eventually added a couple of teams, or maybe it would relocate one. from existing financially strained clubs like Tampa Bay, Oakland or Miami.

However, a couple of years ago, the idea of ​​a Tampa-St. Pete and Montreal floated, with the team taking advantage of two climates by playing home games in Florida in the early part of the season and then moving to Montreal, perhaps with a second “home first game” on Canada Day.

A smaller open-air natural grass stadium would also be built in the Tampa Bay area.

When the playoffs start next week, that sister city idea, once ridiculed, will be more real than ever.

The Rays, who took the AL East title this weekend, will place a flag in foul territory on the right-field line with what they call a “very simple graphic of Tampa Bay Montreal.”

It will be the first concrete indication that this could really happen.

Rays president Matt Silverman said Saturday on the team’s pregame show, “This Week in Rays Baseball,” that he’s “more optimistic today than ever that we’re going to make this happen.”

Montreal, without professional baseball since the Expos' demise, appears to be back on the scene for a timeshare deal with the Tampa Bay Rays.

“Once the page goes into the offseason,” added Silverman, “we will be more visible and more vocal about our plans, because we are entering a watershed moment.”

The Rays’ lease at Tropicana Field expires after the 2027 season, so it appears the team is committed to playing six more seasons at the stadium that former Blue Jays manager John Gibbons once described as a “house of horrors”. But leases can be broken, of course.

With no shovels on the ground in a new ballpark anywhere, it’s impossible to imagine anything changing so soon. The MLB schedule for 2022 is out now and includes the Rays playing 81 home games at the Trop.

They are scheduled to host the Blue Jays for a small two-game series on Aug. 2-3, before a four-game trip to Detroit. Could you switch to Big O for a little “Hi, how are you?” test run? It is certainly not out of the question.

Yes, this could just be a ploy to make a shared franchise move seem more real and pressure local governments to put up the dough for a new ballpark that could keep the Rays in central Florida full time. . After all, both the Chicago White Sox and the San Francisco Giants used the Trop as a lever decades ago, threatening to move to Tampa Bay. The Sox got a new stadium, the Giants got new owners, and they both stayed.

Maybe I’m being naive, but this seems different.

As ugly as the end of 2004 was for the Expos franchise, a demise brought on by the 1994 strike that saw a 74-40 team’s season come to a halt in mid-August, the Expos were a beloved and highly regarded team. crowded for years and years. There should be no question that Montreal can support major league baseball, and right now sharing a team with the Rays is the best way to do that.

It’s possible this time around it’s just Nos Demi-Amours, and they could be called the “Tampa Bay Montreal Rays,” but it really looks like baseball could finally be back where Rusty Staub, Tim Raines, Andre Dawson, Larry Walker, and Vladimir Guerrero Sr. ., among others, made so many memories.

Mike Wilner is a Toronto-based baseball columnist for The Star and host of the “Deep Left Field” baseball podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @happiness


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