Montreal's MLB chances improve after positive City Hall meeting

 Montreal native Russell Martin acknowledges an ovation at a Toronto Blue Jays pre-season game at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Photo Credit: Minas Panagio/Getty Images

Montreal native Russell Martin acknowledges an ovation at a Toronto Blue Jays pre-season game at Montreal's Olympic Stadium. Photo Credit: Minas Panagio/Getty Images

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

Valerie Plante is on board. She has changed her tune.

Just a few months ago, the Montreal mayor appeared somewhat cool to the idea of Major League Baseball returning to Montreal, saying she wanted a referendum to see how voters felt about public money being funnelled into the funding of a new ballpark downtown.

Plante had won a November, 2017 civic election over incumbent Denis Codérre, who had been effusive in his support for the Expos returning to Montreal so there was some concern that Plante's reaction would have a negative impact on the dream.

But Stephen Bronfman and Mitch Garber, two of the potential owners of any new team in Montreal, went public recently and said that they were not seeking any City of Montreal money for a stadium. Plante's ears perked up.

In advance of a meeting Friday with Bronfman and Garber, Plante posed in a store, wearing an Expos cap, and posted the scene on social media.

Then after the meeting with Bronfman and Garber, Plante said, "we're in.'' And to emphasize the point, she was seen going down an escalator with her right arm around Bronfman's left arm in unison.

"It didn't take long to realize that all three of us like projects that will revive Montreal,'' Plante said after the meeting. "We're proud Montrealers. We like projects that are good for economic development and social development and, if getting a baseball team back is good for Montreal, we're in."

Bronfman said his group wanted general support from Plante and her administration in areas that didn't include public funding of the stadium. Bronfman and Garber are seeking a franchise for Montreal either through expansion or relocation of another team.

"It's a file that takes time. We are not asking the city for anything other than supporting the idea,'' Bronfman told reporters.

Bronfman, the son of former Expos majority owner Charles Bronfman, believes the Montreal business community wholeheartedly supports his mission and that businesses and companies will get involved with sponsorship, the purchase of corporate boxes and season tickets.

Looking on from Japan where he spends a few months each year as a broadcaster working on documentaries and biographies, former Expos outfielder and first baseman Warren Cromartie was pleased with the results of the meeting.

“For Mayor Plante to enthusiastically proclaim 'We’re in!' speaks volumes about the quality of the effort we have put in on all fronts to move this project forward,'' Cromartie said in a statement released by his Montreal Baseball Project organization which he founded. "Above all, it demonstrates the credibility of the individuals we are working with across the board and the thoroughness of our work to bring baseball back to Montreal.

"The level of interest in our project from fans, the baseball world, potential partners and others has never been higher. To also hear Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard speak positively of our work is another significant development for us. These affirmations are a clear indication of our unwavering commitment to make Montreal a Major League city again, that will only add to our credibility as we move forward.''

Cromartie has been kicking the tires for some six years, promoting the return of Major League Baseball to Montreal. His MBP group has sought to build upon the groundswell of demand for baseball in Montreal and deliver a major-league team back to the community which lost the Expos to Washington following the 2004 season.

Without Cromartie's initiative in raising awareness for Montreal through reunions and galas, it's very likely Bronfman and Garber wouldn't be in the position they are in right now. The Expos Nation fan group has also been a wonderful lobbyist organization over the years. Then throw in that wonderful fan support for those Jays' games going back a few years.

One of the next steps for Bronfman and Garber is to inform commissioner Rob Manfred that the city of Montreal supports their project. In the meantime, Manfred is waiting for the stadium issues for the Tampa Rays and Oakland A's to be rectified before he even thinks of expansion.

It may be a few years before a team returns but the ball has begun to roll and Expos fan Marc-Andre Milette is one of many supporters, who likes what he sees unfolding in light of the meeting at City Hall.

"I think 2023 or 2024 is realistic,'' Milette posted on Facebook. "But the ball is in Manfred's hand. I am really optimistic and I hope it will happen. As soon as we get a team, I'm buying season tickets. Go Expos go.''

Danny Gallagher

Danny was born in Ted Lindsay's hometown of Renfrew, Ont. but his roots are in nearby Douglas. He played 27 consecutive seasons of top-level amateur baseball in the senior ranks in Ontario, Saskatchewan and Quebec and thrived on organizing events himself, the major one being the highly successful 1983 Canadian senior men's tournament in Sudbury. He began covering the Montreal Expos in 1988 when he joined the Montreal Daily News. Later, he was the Expos beat writer for the Ottawa Sun and Associated Press. He has written four baseball books, including Remembering the Montreal Expos, which he co-authored with Bill Young of Hudson, Que. Gallagher and Young are currently working on a book about the ill-fated 1994 Expos squad. Gallagher can be reached here: dannogallagher@rogers.com