Still rooting, even from afar

The Montreal Expos may have left for Washington, but die-hard Canadian fans still support the team.

For baseball fans Sylvain Tremblay and his 11-year-old son Dominick, rooting for the home team isn't as easy as it used to be. That's because the home team left home.

Last winter, the Tremblays' beloved Montreal Expos packed up their bats, balls, and gloves and moved to the US capital. They're now the Washington Nationals, the darlings of the city's political set, and enjoying their best season of late, clinging to life in the playoff hunt.

The Tremblays aren't the first fans to have their loyalty tested by abandonment. New Yorkers mourned when the Dodgers and Giants moved to California back in the 1950s. Hartford, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Winnipeg all lost hockey teams to the south. There are even rumblings that the New Orleans Saints may move their football operations because of hurricane Katrina. Such are the perils of big-money sports.

But unlike just a few years ago, losing a team - even if it's the fan who's the one moving away - doesn't necessarily mean losing touch. Pro sports leagues are making it easier than ever to follow the action from a distance. With things such as team newsletters, online fan clubs, and match-ups streamed over the Internet, now every game is practically a home game.

Mr. Tremblay, an accountant, used to take his son to 40 games at le Stade Olympique each season, sitting two rows behind home plate. Now he tracks the Nationals' chase for a wildcard berth on mlb.com and listens to games over the Internet. "If it comes down to one game to make the playoffs, I'll have to put work to the side," he says.

The Tremblays have also stayed connected with the erstwhile Expos franchise in more conventional ways. Last year they were part of a cluster of Montreal fans who showed up at the last-ever spring training for nos amours. Dominick threw out the first pitch at an exhibition game. This year they took in Nationals' games in Washington. They even made a trip down to Burlington, Vt., to watch the Vermont Expos, the last minor league team to hold on to the parent club's former name.

The details can be found in Sylvain Tremblay's column at encorebaseballmontreal.com. (It's in French, but some of the site's content is in English.) The website was set up by a group attempting to secure ownership that would have kept the team in Montreal. Hope - at least hope of a team returning to Montreal - doesn't quite spring eternal, but with 1,700 members the site's going strong.

"We're reorienting," says Jacques Doucet, the former play-by-play voice of the Expos on French-language broadcasts. "We're [now] interested in preserving the heritage of the Expos and the old Montreal Royals, the Dodgers farm team that Jackie Robinson once played for."

Those sentiments resonate for Marty Adler, a retired school administrator and the founder of the Dodgers Hall of Fame in Brooklyn. Mr. Adler has been trying to round up donations for a 50th-anniversary reunion of the members of the Dodgers' World Series win, the seminal moment for the long-suffering Brooklyn fans. But Adler, who grew up in Brooklyn but now resides on Long Island, is striking out. "Even though this might be a last chance to get some of the old players together, it's understandable that getting money is hard," Adler says. "Everyone's first charity is [relief efforts for] hurricane Katrina.

Still, "Da' Bums" fans can get their fix of nostalgia on baseball-fever.com, with dozens of postings and even scanned photos and programs. "The good thing [about the website] is that it allows the fans who've moved away from Brooklyn to keep the memories alive," Adler says.

Tremblay says that he and Dominick will treasure their memories of watching the Expos and will follow the Nationals' chase of a pennant to season's end. Beyond that, though, he's not sure that their loyalty will survive in the long run. "It's like having a good friend moving to another country," Tremblay says. "Like we say in French, 'Loin des yeux, loin du coeur' - far from the eyes, far from the heart."

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