By Andrew Hendriks
Canadian Baseball Network
Four years after its debut, the upcoming "Blue Jays in Montreal" series has a chance to become the most pivotal baseball-related exhibition event held in that city to date.
Flaunting their love for the game with a child-like exuberance, droves of baseball addicts have converged on the Royal City every spring dating back to 2014. Ballpark favourites in hand, those who make the annual pilgrimage often reminisce about the good old days when "Quebec's Metropolis" had major league relevance outside of its storied NHL Canadiens, CFL Alouettes or MLS Impact.
It's not just the fading memories harbored within Olympic Stadium's decaying walls that keep those diehards coming out every year. Nor is it merely the chance to catch a glimpse of hometown hero Russell Martin as he takes the field.
To them, it's something much more important.
Officially, 394,379 baseball-starved fanatics have attended the eight games that predate this year's series.
There's little doubt that the higher-ups at Major League Baseball have taken notice of the overwhelming success these contests have become.
Perhaps those decision makers are also aware of how heavily frequented these games are by those who have trekked in for the weekend set.
In the hours leading up to each series' opener, major highways, bus terminals, train stations, and airports can often be found littered with Blue Jays fans who make the journey into Quebec for the yearly showcase. To many, half of the fun centers around watching legions of blue-clad baseball fans invade the various rest stops and gas stations that line the routes between Toronto and Montreal.
With the high number out-of-towners in mind, this year's event should provide an interesting case study into the feasibility of MLB's permanent return to Montreal.
Due to a welcome injection of additional off-days, 2018's regular season will receive a mid-week kickoff later this month. As a result, the Montreal series has been shifted from its customary Friday/Saturday schedule to a less-than-favorable Monday/Tuesday option in order to accommodate team logistics.
The change in schedule will undoubtedly affect the number of individuals who head east for the series, thus allowing for a stronger barometer of the cities independent interest in baseball.
Although they'll be lacking a sizable portion of their Ontario-based counterparts, fans in Montreal say there won't be any stark drop off in the number of gate receipts generated from the upcoming series.
"We have proved that we are ready for the return of Nos Amours," said Perry Gee, a proud owner of one of the most expansive Expos memorabilia collections and organizer of the annual Expos Fest in Montreal. "We will do over 50,000 people on a Monday and Tuesday against a team we have no history against."
Like many Montrealers, Gee is appreciative of Blue Jays attempt to help ignite the cities fanbase, though he admits that most of those in attendance each spring are there to prove a point.
"You can’t deny the number of people that show up to watch exhibition games that don’t even showcase the best of the team players," Gee added. "These games are basically fans showing up saying we want our Expos back."
Whether or not Major League Baseball is truly paying attention to their efforts remains to be seen. Still, should this series retain the pace of its predecessors, the case will only become stronger.
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