Jays headed way of Expos?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

Along the hallway of the 300 level at the SkyDome there are marvellous photos of days gone by.

There is Dave Winfield alongside Paul Molitor alongside Jimmy Key alongside Roberto Alomar. All of them captivating, all of them stirring Blue Jays memories of what used to be.

All this seems particularly relevant as funeral services continue for the Montreal Expos.

How we loved Rusty Staub and Mack Jones and Steve Rogers and Andre Dawson and watching Ellis Valentine throw from right field.

How much we cared then and how distant the ringing sound of John Boccabella's name being announced seems now.

Just as we used to live and breathe with every pitch Dave Stieb threw and every ground ball Tony Fernandez fielded.

A number of questions emerge in the wake of the Expos' demise: How do you avoid being the next franchise mourned? How do you become about today when all you have is yesterday? How do you find your place again when clearly you've lost your way?

Paul Godfrey listens to the questions and bulldozes through them, as is his custom. The Blue Jays are not the Expos and they are not going anywhere, he all but screams.

23,000 AVERAGE

"There are a number of factors on how we avoid being them," said Godfrey, who runs the Blue Jays for Ted Rogers. "We have ownership. They haven't had an owner for three years now. We have a suitable facility, properly located. They didn't. We average 23,000 a game, they averaged 9,300 a game. Our games are on television, they had no television contract.

"Are we what the Maple Leafs are to this city? Absolutely not. Hockey isn't a sport, it's a religion. Baseball, basketball, football are sports. When you're in a sport, you have to be successful. This season was, uh, less than successful."

The longest, saddest Blue Jays season in club history creeps to conclusion this weekend. The Jays may remain on the sporting map of this city, but finding the map now is the difficulty.

Sport these days is so much about buzz and belief and trend and connection and so many of those relationships are damaged between this city and its baseball team.

There is little belief and even less talk. At its best, the baseball season is a page-by-page piece of non-fiction, every chapter different, the ending sometimes stirring.

But what happens when you put the book down and decide to stop reading? Do you become Montreal? Do you become less relevant than you already are?

Or do you become what the Argos have been for too many years -- a piece of niche entertainment not enjoyed by the masses?

Godfrey is too close to his job and his players and the daily baseball activity at the SkyDome to fully comprehend the severity of the Blue Jays plight. This is, forget the numbers, the lowest point in their 27-year-history.

Even Carlos Delgado's status and the possibility of a new manager being named can't muster much conversation -- and worse, emotion -- anymore. It is that dry and that desperate.

"When the season started, there was more buzz," Godfrey said. "The buzz went silent when the team didn't perform. This was a season if it could go wrong, it went wrong. How do we get people back? You have to play games that matter in September. We have to do that."

He still believes in general manager J.P. Ricciardi, who is trailing in the public opinion polls. He believes they have the right kids to contend again.

He believes there is hope.

"I think the Stiebs and Joe Carters and George Bells of our future are coming through our system now."

He has to believe.

If he doesn't, who will?


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