Ballpark Digest

Thursday, Jul 31st

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Olympic Stadium / Montreal Expos

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We dig into the archives for a look back at Olympic Stadium when it hosted the Montreal Expos.

Year Built: 1976
Capacity: 46,500
Dimensions: 325L, 404C, 325R
Ticket Prices: VIP, $40; box seats, $30; terrace, $20; general admission, $15; bleachers, $10 (all prices CDN)
Parking: There are several public parking lots within a block of the ballpark, including a larger one at the corner of 18th and Salmon. There are a slew of parking restrictions in the area surrounding the ballpark, so be prepared to either pay for a lot or take the bus.
Address: 4549 Pierre-de-Coubertin, Montréal.

Alas, the poor baseball fans of Montréal. They're faced with a stadium that's literally falling apart, a provincial government hemming and hawing over financially supporting a new stadium, greedy ownership bragging about turning a profit in 1998 with the lowest payroll on baseball while lobbying for a government payout, a team that's long on potential but short on accomplishments, and a baseball commissioner who has targeted the franchise for contraction. And the fans have responded by staying away in droves from Expos games at Olympic Stadium.

In fact, it's all but certain that 2004 will be the final season for the Montreal Expos. MLB has missed several deadlines to move the team, but it's hard to imagine that 2005 won't see the Expos in a new locale.

This is a shame, as there's a rich history of baseball in Montréal. Not that Olympic Stadium is totally horrible; it was built in the 1970s before the advent of luxury boxes and private seat licenses. (Indeed, the lack of both is what kills the Expos from a revenue viewpoint.) The best seats are actually very good, but the poorer seats (like those in the outfield bleachers) are quite dreadful, with a poor orientation to the rest of the playing field. We're seeing that most stadiums built in the 1970s are totally lacking, both in providing revenues to teams and in serving the elevated expectations of fans. The Metrodome, Kingdome, Olympic Stadium...I don't think that fans will be weeping over the eventual demise of these stadiums, invoking the same sense of loss as did Crosley Field and Sportsman's Park when they were shuttered. Indeed, Olympic Stadium gets four baseballs on the basis of Montréal being a great travel destination. Put Olympic Stadium in, say, El Paso and it would receive a one-baseball rating.

The concern here, naturally, isn't whether major-league baseball remains in Montréal; the concern is that Olympic Stadium meets the wrecking ball it so richly deserves, paving the way for a more intimate ballpark in downtown Montréal. Or, perhaps, an even more intimate ballpark that would support a minor-league team when the Expos flee Montréal. However, Montréal will be a great baseball-travel destination now and in the future; Montréal is too large a market to be ignored by minor-league baseball after the Expos do move.

CONCESSIONS
If you visit Montréal, you must at some time break down and have a smoked-meat sandwich. Now, exactly how the meat is smoked and the exact origin of the meat is always up for debate, but Montréalers take their smoked meat very seriously. (Personally, I found it too greasy, but there is the chance I was having an inferior smoked-meat sandwich.) Smoked-meat sandwiches are on the menu at Olympic Stadium, as are Jumbo and Super (quarter-pound) hot dogs, rondelles d'oignon frites (onion rings), nachos, and frites.The best item on the menu? The poutine, a French-Canadian delicacy consisting of French fries, gravy, and cheese curds. The French fries go in first, followed by the cheese curds and then the gravy.

A wide variety of liquors are on the menu as well. Labatt Blue is on tap, while Labatt 50, Bud (ugh), Labatt .5 and Molson Dry are available in bottles. White and red wine, vodka, scotch, rhum (remember, this is Canada), gin, Amaretto, Grand Marnier and cognac are all sold by the glass as well.

FOR THE KIDS
There's not a lot at the ballpark specifically for kids. However, it seems like the unofficial gathering ground for kids in the outfield bleachers; during my last visit the bleachers were jammed with kinds having a ball.

PARKING
Truth be known, I always took public transit to Olympic Stadium, so I have no idea about the parking situation at Olympic Stadium. The Montréal subway line goes directly from downtown Montréal to the stadium, and an enclosed walkway runs between the subway station and the stadium. If you're flying into Montréal from out of town, there's little reason to rent a car. It's easiest to take a cab from your airport to your hotel and then rely on inexpensive public transportation and cabs the rest of the time. Even better would be a train ride to and from Montréal. VIA Rail connects with Amtrak, so you can make it from the larger cities on the East Coast directly into Montréal's Central Station, adjoining the Queen Elizabeth hotel.