We end 2015 with a countdown of the 10 biggest stories of the year on Ballpark Digest, as chosen by editors and partially based on page views. Today, #4: Montreal fans were still passionate about a return of Major League Baseball to the city, as MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred lays out a roadmap.
With the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays struggling to finalize any sort of new ballpark plan in their cities, it’s no surprise there’s plenty of chatter about potential new homes for the two MLB franchises. Top on that list for fans and many baseball insiders: Montreal, where the late, lamented Expos provided one of the most interesting baseball experiences everywhere. Montreal fans showed their enthusiasm for MLB during two exhibition series at Olympic Stadium in 2015 and 2014, and polls show a lot of support for Expos II in the city.
Bud Selig was pretty noncommittal about the return of MLB to Montreal, but his replacement, Rob Manfred, has been more open about how the city could acquire a team. And it all revolves around a new ballpark. No, not the 1999 Labatt Park plan (shown in the above rendering), but something more suited to the weather. As he said:
“I’m aware of the crowds they drew (to Olympic Stadium) two years in a row,” Manfred said of the 96,000-plus for two-game sets in both 2014 and 2015. “It’s a very positive thing in terms of demonstrating Montreal’s interest in major-league baseball. I do think it’s important for Montreal to have a firm plan as to how they would get to a major-league facility, a site, a financing plan and the like in place.
“In terms of a timeline for an actual franchise, just impossible to tell. There’s two ways you can get there. Expansion, which I see as a back burner issue for baseball right now, and relocation, and that obviously depends on developments in other markets.”…
“I think it is really important for baseball to have viable alternatives with respect to expansion and relocation,” Manfred said. “It’s just good business to make an effort to make sure that we have alternatives available to us in the event that there is a problem. I’m reluctant to characterize them as only relevant on the context of relocation, because I think our sport’s a great sport. It’s tremendously healthy and it has the potential to grow so that I see it as both an expansion and relocation issue.”
Still, there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s still no local owners emerging, no ballpark plans, and no public announcements of major corporate support. Fans can only go so far in pushing support for a Montreal ballpark — but the longer Oakland and Tampa Bay dawdle, the higher the odds go.
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