Olympic Stadium, Montreal

Olympic Stadium, built for the 1976 Olynmpics, featured a retractable roof that would rise high in the air on the big spire you can see in this shot from a nearby hill. The roof, however, had stopped retracting years ago and was permanently stuck shut.

Toward the end of the Expos era the crowds were so sparse they just closed off the upper deck.

First game: April, 2000. I drove my daughters Caitlin and Kara to Montreal during April school vacation. They were both taking French in school and wanted to try out their accents on some actual French-speaking people. First night, we went to a decent restaurant on Sherbrooke Street, sat down and the girls ordered au Francais. The server reacted with a kind of smile/chuckle combo and proceeded to answer them in English. At least we tried.

We toured the city and, of course, went to an Expos game at Olympic Stadium. This was stop #11 on my World Ballpark Tour. It was also my first indoor ball game.

We saw Le Cubs de Chicago facing Les Expos. I got three excellent Terrace Box seats for I’m not sure how much. I gave the guy a $20 US bill and got three tickets and something like $18 Canadien in change.

The name Expos refers to Expo ’67, the World’s Fair held that year at Ile Sainte Helene in Montreal. It was a hugely successful fair, and at year’s end MLB announced that Montreal would get an expansion team starting in 1969.

Olympic had a fake field, lousy outfield walls and not many fans. They didn’t even bother opening the upper deck. The scoreboard kept track of “balles” and “prises” and AC (Arret Coure) to indicate the shortstop. I chatted with a Japanese fan who loved Hidecki Irabu, the Japanese pitcher who came to the US from the Chiba Lotte Marines and who was traded from the Yankees to the Expos that year and was 1-1 with a no-decision at this point. The man spoke almost no English, and I only know three words in Japanese (“hi” for yes, “mushi-mushi” to say hello on the phone, and “konnichi wa” for hello in person.). The girls tried to interpret in French, nut neither of us knew enough to make that work. But…we could both speak baseball. At one point catcher Chris Widger came up to bat for the Expos and people were booing. The Japanese fan asked me, “Why they boo?” I said, with appropriate hand gestures, that I think he asked to be traded (which we was later that year). So he said, “Oooh. Booooo!” At the concession stand I tried to order hot dogs – two for me with mustard and relish, one each for the girls with just ketchup. Problem: at Olympic you didn’t put your on your own condiments – they would apply them for you. Just tell the guy what you want. But the man behind the counter, who was Pakistani, spoke no English or French. So I wound up with mustard and relish on all the hot dogs. The girls asked me why I did that and I explained that the ketchup request was lost in translation.

Noteworthy, we saw Sammy Sosa homer (#4 for 2000). Joe Girardi, later the Yankees manager, was the Cubs catcher. An Expo pitcher who did not appear in the game was Carl Pavano, the guy the Red Sox traded to Montreal to get Pedro Martinez. The Expos won, 4-3, and a save was earned by UUU. That would be one Ugueth Urtain Urbina, who served as Red Sox closer in 2001 and 2002. In 2007 he was convicted of attempted murder with a machete and gasoline in his native Venezuela. He was released in 2012, but that really has nothing to do with Olympic Stadium. Oh, they lit off fireworks – inside the ballpark – to celebrate the Expos win.

After the 2004 season the Expos left Montreal after 36 years and moved to Washington DC to become the Nationals. The Nation’s Capital had been without baseball since 1972.

Second game: April 2, 2016. Recently there has been a lot of interest in bringing Major League Baseball back to Montreal. The last three seasons have seen exhibition games at Olympic Stadium right before the start of the regular season. In 2016 Kara and I drove to Montreal for a Red Sox de Boston-Blue Jays de Toronto game.

Not sure what Pair and Impair mean. Maybe a handicap entrance?

Unlike our visit in 2000, Olympic was sold out (50,000 plus) and completely alive. Fans with Blue Jays jerseys, Red Sox jerseys and Expos jerseys.

The scoreboard still has “balles” and prises.”

When we stopped at US Customs on the way home the Customs Official was quizzing me on why I was in Canada. I told him we went to see a Red Sox-Blue Jays game. To make sure I was on the up-and-up he asked he how Olympic Stadium looked. I told him it was due for some touching up, which it is. Montreal misses baseball and gets 50,000-plus for every exhibition game. Compare that to 7,000 at a typical game at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay. If Montreal does get a new team – whether by expansion or someone like the Rays moving there – theteam should be in the same league and division as Toronto to create a natural rivalry.

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