Won Over by the Montreal Expos

Though fewer fans have any faith left, this one keeps cheering

It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. No, I'm not trying to update Charles Dickens on the French Revolution. I'm talking about being a Montreal Expos fan.

What's that? You know, the Montreal Expos Major League Baseball team. First MLB franchise located outside the United States. Original home team for Andre Dawson, Tim Raines, Marquis Grissom, Larry Walker, Andres Galarraga, Moises Alou, Gary Carter, Randy Johnson, and a whole bunch of other guys who have led, or are leading, their teams into playoff contention.

The Expos used to wear that funny tricolor hat, remember?

See, there's my problem. Being an Expos fan is like being a Lyndon Larouche supporter. The supporters are ferociously passionate, but it's not taken seriously by anyone else, including, unfortunately, most of the people who live in Montreal.

Once again the Expos are in the hunt for a wild-card playoff spot with one of the smallest payrolls in either league. They are playing far above pundits' expectations, thanks largely, I believe, to the presence of the best manager in baseball, Felipe Alou. Yet attendance is down slightly from last year.

Montrealers, you see, have grown blas about the Expos. The joke in Canada is that two things always start falling in September - the leaves and the Expos. Montreal is a town that demands a winner, and it has been so long since the Expos have been in the playoffs (16 years) that Montrealers don't have any faith left.

Since attendance is down slightly, the team will not go searching for just the right player to put them over the top in the playoff hunt because, well, basically, the team can't afford it. Which probably means another fire sale of the teams' best players after the season ends. (What Wal-Mart is to the average shopper, the Expos are to the other teams - a great place to pick up bargains at dirt-cheap prices.)

And so, once again, team management is making rumbling noises about moving the club to a place where fan support might be greater. This time they want a new stadium located in the heart of the city. They cite Baltimore as an example of what can happen with a new home and a new location.

The current stadium, known as the Big O, was built for the Olympics in 1976. It is cold, drafty, and foreboding. I always imagined it was very much like solitary confinement at Joliet.

So now you know why it's the worst of times. But, as I said, it's also the best of times. It used to be that finding out information about the Expos was like looking for tombs in the Valley of the Kings. You really had to hunt around to find something interesting. This was true even in Canada. Once the cursed Toronto Blue Jays arrived on the scene, the national media (which is to say the Toronto-based media who consider themselves to be the national media) focused all their attention on the Jays.

Thank heavens for the Internet. Where I once scraped by on the morsel of news, I now dine like a king.

Thanks to the Web, I can listen to the broadcast of Expos games live on my computer from CFRA, an Ottawa-based station that carries the broadcast. If I don't want to tie up all that bandwidth, I can follow the play-by-play real time description of the game on a site called InstantSports. Started in 1995, InstantSports provides coverage of every MLB game, every night as it happens, and automatically updates the info on your computer.

The day after the game, I can read the Montreal Gazette or the Journal de Montreal online to get the inside scoop. Next it's over to visit the Expos' pages on USA Today or The Baseball Server provided by Nando.Net. Or I can subscribe to the personalized Web-services of sites like ESPN's SportsZone or CBS's Sportsline for more detailed stories, plus reports on minor league teams, attendance figures - you name it.

So much news about the Expos, I don't have time to read it all every day.

In other words, nirvana.

Yet here I am, finally able to follow my team in a fashion that befits the fanatic that I am, and it might all be for naught.

It's hard to be an optimist and an Expos fan at the same time. But I'll keep trying. Who knows, maybe a deal can be reached and a new stadium will be built. Maybe the team will catch its breath and win the playoff spot this year. Maybe the fans will rediscover this very exciting team.

What's that you say? You're a Cubs fan? Just because things look bad, doesn't mean it can't get worse. Oh well. Go 'spos!

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