What remains for Expos dreamers

The Montreal Expos have been gone for 18 years and seven months, yet they refuse to go away. For years there was alleged interest in having the Tampa Bay Rays play summers in Montreal, and springs and falls in St. Petersburg, but the best team in baseball in 2023 is almost certain to stay home, full-time, in Florida.

When a major-league team makes plans to move (Oakland), the subject of shifting franchises and expansion surfaces, and the Expos are always in the conversation about that unlikely event. Meanwhile, the Montreal Baseball Project is determined to find a team somewhere, anywhere, but its last update was in 2019.

What’s left is Expos Fest.

Every April, old ballplayers return to the city that made them famous to sign autographs, enjoy attention they don’t get anymore, earn royalties they don’t earn any more, and help sell Expos’ memorabilia for a terrific cause. The one-day event provides jilted Expos fans the chance to re-visit their pasts and keep their impossible dream alive. The $185 they pay includes a four-course dinner, and Expos Fest sells out at around 1,000 fans. I recall some Jarry Park nights that didn’t attract many more.

The man whose money created the Expos, Charles Bronfman, once said any new major-league team would have to have a downtown stadium with 35,000 seats under a retractable roof…i.e., a modern Jarry Park, insulated from the weather. Impressive fund-raising aside, that’s not in the Expos Fest budget.

This month’s cast included Vladimir Guerrero Sr., one of the last players out the door before they turned off the lights in 2004. And Bill Stoneman, the only Expos pitcher to throw two no-hitters. Also Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Bill Gullickson and Rodney Scott from the late ’70s Expos team that ignited the competitive fires. Of the 10 Expos managers, 87-year-old Felipe Alou represented the four who are still alive. Retired hockey players Bob Gainey and Chris Chelios were invited because, well, Montreal Canadiens memorabilia sells, too.

They’ll run out of players one day but they may never run out of memorabilia. I counted 118 autographed items available online: photos, patches, baseballs, bats, mini-Gold Gloves, hockey jerseys, Hall of Fame plaques and posters by award-winning artist Aislin, whose latest book “A Cartoonist’s Scrapbook of the Montreal Expos” comes out next year. For people who just want to support a cause, the prices are irrelevant; the highest is $500 for a cleverly named painting called “Outfield of Dreams” — Guerrero, Dawson and Tim Raines.

Donations are now over $1 million for the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Fund-raising for that hospital is part of my past — our one-year-old required surgery there, and later at the radio station where I was sports director we auctioned equipment worn by sports stars to raise money for the hospital. The richest item? Also $500, for Ellis Valentine’s batting helmet!

Expos Fest was the creation of Perry Giannias, whose five-year-old niece Catherine (Kat) Demes lost her battle with a form of brain cancer called Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma in 2015. The money raised is dedicated to DIPG research.

And so it is that today the Expos live, at least in part because of a little girl who didn’t.