We won't forget you, Expos

BOB ELLIOTT -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

First thing you should know is we are not very good at funerals.

The Montreal-bound-for-Washington, D.C., Expos lost 9-1 in their final home game last night at Olympic Stadium before a crowd of 31,395.

After the game, the Expos ringed the field, tossing baseballs to the fans.

The fifth consecutive September of 'will they or won't they' came to an end yesterday. Turn out the lights.

"It's like having a sick friend for three years and knowing he's going to die," Sebastien Rivest, 24, of Baseball Quebec said. "But when it does happen, it's still a shock.

"I'm going to remember my father taking me to the Big O for the first time ... a lot of memories are going away."

As Expos president Tony Tavares talked about how it was a good business decision yesterday, we thought of the Expos getting the franchise when we were 17.

I thought of my father, and of driving from Kingston to Jarry Park. He would have one eye on the approaching storm clouds and one eye on the road. That was scary, because dad lost his left eye playing football at Queen's.

Who would have thunk that 10 years later we'd be sitting in seat No. 13 in the first row covering the Expos?

For a million dollars we couldn't tell Expo infielder Brendan Harris from outfielder Valentino Pasucci.

Yet seeing the Expos brings back memories. We covered the Expos from 1979 until 1986, an era when writers travelled on charter flights and had more access.

We thought of friendships.

Like Serge Touchette of Le Journal de Montreal, who now claims he is my boss and says "today you write en Francais, I'll write en Anglais."

Someone once told a struggling Neal Heaton after he had been dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1989 how he would pitch better with the Bucs, saying: "They have a great outfield -- Barry Bonds, Andy Van Slyke and Bobby Bonilla."

Asked Serge: "Where are they going to play? The 14th row?"

We thought of Michael Farber and Bob Dunn.

And of laughs with scout Birdie Tebbetts at The Barn in Cincinnati.

This was a sad day.

One of the best franchises in the game in the 1980s an afterthought. It should be a warning to others.

Despite extra security last night, fans threw two golf balls on to the field in the top of the third and Expo manager Frank Robinson pulled his team for 10 minutes.

"I was with the Atlanta Braves in 1968 and I was so proud that my city got a major-league team," coach Claude Raymond said.

"I told everyone what a great city Montreal was."

Raymond has been here since Day 1, actually before that.

The Braves allowed him to toddle around town pushing season-tickets packages.

"I've dropped a few tears and will shed some more."

Peter Loyello grew up in Dollard Des Ormeaux, Que. He worked with the Expos and is now a vice-president with the Florida Marlins.

"My dad, Jim, would buy us bleacher seats. My brother, Perry, and I would ask him questions and he explained the game to us. You can't do that in a movie theatre," Loyello said.

"He made sacrifices to bring us to the 1981 post-season games against the Philadelphia Phillies."

Loyello brought his mom, Madeleine, to the game and met his buddies by the "oom-paa-paa" band.

Like old times.

Fern Barette, 87, former press box custodian who took in Warren Cromartie and Larry Parrish as borders, was here, saying: "Here for the first, here for the last."

We watched him walk down press row, saying goodbye to everyone a final time, crying all the way.

It was rough watching Raymond, a passionate Canadian, stand on the mound during opening ceremonies.

It was tough seeing fans in line crying before the gates opened.

And it wasn't much fun looking at the faces of long-time Expo employees when Tavares made it official.

So, as the screen blurs, we must go.


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