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  Tue, July 6, 2004


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Sad and pathetic ending
Expos still have rich history
By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

Today, the Expos are run by Major League Baseball. They will be relocated soon, either to Washington, D.C., or northern Virginia. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton)

When the Montreal Expos played the Blue Jays last weekend in Puerto Rico, Mark Potashner was drawn to his television, a moth to a flickering flame.

Mark Potashner is a psychologist. He has three kids, but somewhere in his house in Thornhill there is a tricoloured ball cap with an illegible logo.

Mark Potashner is a Montreal Expos fan. Still.

"It's pathetic," he said. "It really is.

"Two teams near the bottom of the standings, playing in Puerto Rico, in front of 2,500 people, in the rain."

And yet he watched.

Toronto is home to vast colonies of transplanted Montrealers, economic or political refugees who fled the Parti Quebecois or 10-month winters.

They have found, in Toronto, a far more predictable, more lucrative and blander existence but they cannot purge their past.

That past included the Expos, Canada's team for a few years after their inception in 1969 thanks to Jarry Park and a wild cast of uniformed characters that included Ron Hunt, Mack Jones and Coco Laboy.

Today, the Expos are run by Major League Baseball. They will be relocated soon, either to Washington, D.C., or northern Virginia. They play in Puerto Rico or indoors in the Olympic Stadium, the worst joint in Major League Baseball, in front of paltry crowds. They stink.

But the Expos were Major League Baseball in Canada until the Blue Jays arrived in 1977. While the Jays took their first steps, the Expos trotted out a succession of stars.

The litany of Expos greats, Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Steve Rogers, Mike Marshall, Rusty Staub, Vladimir Guerrero, Ken Singleton, Larry Parrish, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Dennis Martinez, Pedro Martinez, still dwarfs that of the Blue Jays.

Once, John Boccabella was a just a ball player. Now, the pronunciation of his name is a secret handshake shared among former Montrealers and middle-aged guys who watched a lot of Wednesday night baseball on television.

"The novelty of having Major League Baseball in Montreal, was a big factor to how popular the Expos were," said Ron Fairly, now a member of the Seattle Mariners broadcast crew and a six-year Expo.

"I really think Jarry Park was a big factor. It was very much like Fenway Park in that the fans were just a few feet away. When you stood in the on-deck circle, there were people no more than 10 feet away. There were fans, a lot of fans, I knew by name."

Steve Mittleman left Montreal to study law at the University of Toronto and stayed here.

He and 29,183 of his best friends were at Jarry for the Expos' first game, April 14, 1969, against St. Louis.

To Montrealers, Jarry -- a tinny, overstuffed bandbox, long since converted to a tennis stadium -- was Camelot.

"My whole class was there. Time did an article about baseball in Montreal and we all got our picture in the magazine. Jarry Park was just a wonderful, wonderful place."

The Expos deal in heartbreak. Some of the worst were the players' strike of 1994, called with the Expos at 74-40, the Rick Monday homer in 1981 to deny the club its sole National League pennant, the purchase of the club by Claude Brochu and later, Jeffrey Loria, the loss of stars from Pedro Martinez to Guerrero.

Mark Potashner understands compulsive, unproductive behaviour. To love something based on what it was, or what you think it was, instead of what it clearly is, makes no sense. But, hey, love is love.

"When I first started following the Expos, you could watch a game from the bleachers for seventy-five cents. Maybe the hold sports can have on people comes because that hold began in a better, more simple time in your life."

Then the shrink comes back at the expense of the romantic.

"To be an Expos fan," he said, "you have to be delusional."