It’s time to pull the plug

Not many people will admit to this nowadays but I’m a die-hard, true-blue Montreal Expos fanatic—and have been for as long as I can remember.
It was one day shy of my sixth birthday when the Expos played their first game on April 8, 1969. And while I don’t remember that, it wasn’t long before my most prized possessions were a Montreal Expos hat and a Rusty Staub pin (my brother had Coco LaBoy).
By the mid-70s, I was hooked. So much so that one of the first things I bought with my own money was a cheap radio from Canadian Tire so I could listen to Expos games at night in my bedroom.
I remember listening to the exploits of Staub, LaBoy, Bill Stoneman, Bob Bailey, Bobby Wine, and Ron Hunt under manager Gene Mauch while sitting on the stool in my Grandma and Grandpa Behan’s kitchen on Somerset Street in Ottawa, or with my Grandpa Fleurie under the sumac tree in the backyard in Eganville.
I couldn’t wait for Expos telecasts on the tube with Dave Van Horne and Duke Snider—and hated rain-outs.
And then there was that thrill of a lifetime for a sixth-grader—a trip to Montreal to watch a Sunday afternoon double-header at old Jarry Park (we also made it to a couple of games at Olympic Stadium in later years).
Even when we headed back overseas in 1976, I never missed a beat. In the summer of ’79 while on vacation in Spain, I remember dashing to a nearby newsstand every day to buy the Herald Tribune to see how my Expos were faring.
By then, it was the likes of Gary Carter, Larry Parrish, Steve Rogers, Andre Dawson, Ellis Valentine, Warren Cromartie, Bill Gullickson, Scott Sanderson, Ross Grimsley, Charlie Lea, Chris Speier, and Bill “Spaceman” Lee who were the heroes.
Alas, that also was the beginning of three years of heartbreak.
That fall, ears glued to the American Forces Network radio station in Brussels despite the six-hour time difference, it all came down to the final weekend of the season before Montreal lost the NL East pennant to Willie Stargell and the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates.
A year later, back in Canada, I could only watch helplessly on TV as the Expos lost the NL East race on the final weekend to Mike Schmidt, Steve Carlton, Greg Luzinski, Larry Bowa, and Tug McGraw of the hated Philadelphia Phillies, who also went on to win the World Series.
Then came 1981. Oct. 19 to be exact. Twenty years ago this past Friday.
No Expos fan will ever forget that gut-wrenching feeling when Rick Monday launched a Steve Rogers pitch over the right-centerfield wall in the fifth-and-deciding game of the National League Championship Series (they were only best-of-five affairs back then) that propelled the Los Angeles Dodgers into the World Series against the New York Yankees.
I was crushed. It was almost more than a die-hard fan could bear (as any Minnesota Viking or Toronto Maple Leaf supporter would know).
The Expos—now sporting stars like Dennis Martinez, Pedro Martinez, John Wetteland, Moises Alou, and Marquis Grisson (even Randy Johnson for a while)—got close just once more over the years, sitting comfortably in first place with a 74-40 record (the best in baseball) until that fateful day of Aug. 12, 1994 when a players’ strike washed out the rest of the season.
That was tough to swallow, too, but it still doesn’t rank with the big blow on “Blue Monday.”
It’s only fitting, then, that word came out yesterday—almost 20 years to the day—that the Montreal Expos will be asked to fold following this year’s World Series (along with the Florida Marlins and maybe the Tampa Bay Devil Rays).
Perhaps the story isn’t true, and maybe the team will stumble along for another year or two in Montreal. But why kid ourselves? Why prolong the inevitable?
Even die-hard fans like me (and all you closet ones out there across Rainy River District) can’t stomach the thought of watching the Expos limp through another dismal season with terrible fan support (routinely drawing less than 5,000 people to the “Big O” in the latter part of the campaign).
The Expos are on life support, and it’s time to pull the plug. At least this time, the final blow will be merciful.

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