Hard to believe it has been 10 years since the Montreal Expos were getting set to begin their final spring training at Space Coast Stadium at Viera, Florida before relocating in Washington as the Nationals in 2005.
There are actually eight - possibly nine - players still active who played on that final Montreal team in 2004. Five of those had ties to the Blue Jays, including lefty reliever Scott Downs, righty reliever Jon Rauch, Tomo Ohka who's trying a comeback this year with the Blue Jays as a knuckleballer, shortstop Alex Gonzalez (the first one) who was a contemporary of Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green and current Jays utility infielder Maicer Izturis. The others include reliever Luis Ayala, infielder Jamey Carroll and outfielder Endy Chavez, and Canadian-born pitcher Shawn Hill who pitched last season and may still be active.
The Expos knew they were in trouble going into that final season. Major League Baseball was running the team, and rumours were running rampant they were either going to be relocated or contracted, folded if you will.
The Expos played 22 of their games in Puerto Rico at Hiram Bithorn Stadium in San Juan, either to try and make more money for MLB, or expose the game on a more international level, or kill off the Expos even faster. Take your pick.
In any event their attendance in 2004 was the worst in the Majors at 748,550. The Expos dropped their final five home games at Stad Olympique and went 2-7 on their final homestand ever.
The Expos' final home game ever was on September 29 against the Florida Marlins. Before the game they were presented with a banner by MLB, that proclaimed them as the best team in baseball in 1994. That of course was the year of the player's strike that stretched into early 2005.
The Expos had the best record in the Majors when play was halted in August of 1994 and most pundits felt they would have won the World Series that year. That banner was raised in centre field during that final game in Montreal. But mere hours later, word leaked out that the Expos would be relocating to Washington for the next season as the Nationals. To complete that washout of a day, Florida won the final game played in Montreal, 9-1. Korean-born pitcher Sun-Woo Kim, who finished with an appropriate career record of 13-13 took the loss giving up five runs on five hits in just two innings. Veteran catcher Todd Zeile hit the final home run at Olympic Stadium, a three-run shot off Claudio Vargas in the 6th inning. But it wasn't quite over from the Expos as they had to go to Shea Stadium in New York to play out the season in the very park where they played their first-ever game in 1969.
After dropping the first game, Montreal won its final game under the Expos banner on Saturday, October 2. It had plenty of drama too. Brad Wilkerson, who spent some time with the Blue Jays in 2008, slammed a three-run tie-breaking homer in the top of the 9th off Braden Looper to propel Montreal to a 6-3 victory.
On the Sunday, they didn't fare as well. The Mets crushed them 8-1. Jamey Carroll scored the final run in Expos history and Endy Chavez made the final out. Five players who had ties to the Blue Jays were involved in that game: Jose Reyes, Wilkerson, Tony Bautista, Jon Rauch and Maicer Izturis. Not only that, Randy St. Claire, Montreal's pitching coach on that day, is now the Blue Jays Triple-A pitching coach at Buffalo. Also of note, the winning pitcher that day for the Mets was Tom Glavine, winding down his Hall of Fame career, who climbed to 11-14 with the victory.
Montreal finished that final season at 67-95.
A couple of more notes on that final Expos season. They were involved in one of the biggest trades of the year at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. It was a nine-player, four-team swap that involved Montreal, Boston, the Cubs and Minnesota.
The Expos sent shortstop Orlando Cabrera to Boston. The Red Sox sent one of their all-time greats, Nomar Garciaparra, to the Cubs as part of the package and Alex Gonzalez was one of the three players that went from the Cubs to Montreal.
Strangely enough, Gonzalez, the ex-Jay, was the final Expos player ever dealt. He was sent to San Diego as part of a conditional deal on September 16.
The Expos left us with some great memories, and there are many who believe a team will return to Montreal, including a group fronted by former Expos left fielder Warren Cromartie.
For that to happen though, a new downtown stadium has to be built, and that is nowhere near happening yet.
For now Montreal fans will have to be content with two pre-season games at the Olympic Stadium in late March between the Blue Jays and the New York Mets.
This year's All-Star game is slated for Target Field in Minnesota. In 2015, the Midsummer Classic will be in Cincinnati. Commissioner Bud Selig says Washington is a front-runner for 2017. However 2016 is open and if the rotation is followed would go to an American League team.
That would be the perfect fit for the Blue Jays, on the 25th anniversary of the first All-Star Classic they hosted in 1991. Here's hoping.