Last call in Montreal

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:09 AM ET

It was never supposed to be like this.

Twenty years ago, no one would have envisioned the curtain coming down on this Valderi, Valderah hit show known as the Montreal Expos, which played nightly to noisy packed houses.

Tonight's Montreal Expos game at the Olympic Stadium against the Florida Marlins, their final home game of 2004, will likely be the final home game in the 36-year-old history of the franchise.

Les Expos, "nos amours" ... our beloved ones, as they were referred to since they first set foot on a converted tennis court known as Jarry Park, will soon be no more.

The news could come today.

"I'd like to think if they were going to make an announcement someone would beef up security," said Expos player rep Brian Schneider.

A fan ran onto the field ... and ran ... and ran ... before being tackled in the seventh inning.

"Security is a concern for us," Brad Wilkerson said.

Some 25,000 seats are sold for tonight. It's not to see Sun-woo Kim pitch against Carl Pavano.

Too little too late. There were 5,416 fans last night as the Florida Marlins beat the Expos 5-2.

Tonight's crowd will consist of mourners, those with memories of the glory days and people who want the ticket stub as a souvenir.

"We're not gone yet," said coach Claude Raymond of St. Jean, Que., who pitched in the majors for 12 years.

With 41/2 months remaining before the start of spring training, there still are obstacles to be cleared for a proposed move from Montreal to Washington.

There is the matter of a lawsuit from former Expos minority owners, and Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angeles must be satisfied financially.

"We've survived contraction and other threats. A lot of people have given up on us. Fans are still here," Raymond said.

In 20 years what will the stylized 'M' on an Expo cap be to a youngster other than a question:"Dad, what team was that?"

"I'll cry when it's official," Raymond said. "If I cried every time they said this was the final season, or that we were leaving, I wouldn't have any tears left."

What might have been had Charles Bronfman still been in charge? After being the Expos majority owner since 1969, Bronfman sold the team on Nov. 30, 1990.

That was not his game plan.

Not the night when he summoned then Dave Dombrowski and his assistants to a box after a game late in August of 1998.

"We had no idea what was coming, we were wondering whether we would all be fired," said one executive.

Instead, Bronfman explained his desire for the club to be a lasting legacy for his children. The Expos would be the next Yankees.

Go spend, no matter the cost, Bronfman told them.

The next May, the Expos overpaid in a trade -- Randy Johnson, Brian Holman, Gene Harris -- for Mark Langston and in August offered to make the left-hander the highest-paid player.

Langston wasn't interested and went to the Anaheim Angels as a free agent. Bronfman soured on baseball. He did the noble thing and sold to a Canadian group, led by Claude Brochu, turning down larger offers from American buyers.

"Finding an owner in Montreal since Mr. Bronfman left has really been difficult," said Tim Raines, manager at single-A Brevard County who has been with the Expos this month.

"It was never easy to get players to come here with the tax situation."

Raines played 13 of his 23 seasons with the Expos. Despite two World Series rings he earned with the New York Yankees, Raines maintains he'll always be an Expo.

Buck Rodgers, the popular former Expos manager, always asked in a bar as lights flashed off and on to signal last call: "Could you please let us know when it is the final, final last call?"

This sounds as if it's the final, final last call.


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