Guerrero Jr. stokes baseball fever in Montreal

 Since 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays' pre-season exhibition games in Montreal have been a hot ticket. Photo Credit: Toronto Blue Jays

Since 2014, the Toronto Blue Jays' pre-season exhibition games in Montreal have been a hot ticket. Photo Credit: Toronto Blue Jays

By Danny Gallagher

Canadian Baseball Network

MONTREAL -- You couldn't have written a better script.

Who could not have been thrilled to see Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hit his magical home run on television or in person on Tuesday night? Even a number of St. Louis Cardinals stayed in their dugout to witness the wild scene at the plate after Vlad Jr. nailed his walk-off gem, a fitting ending to another two days of annual exhibitions involving the Blue Jays at Olympic Stadium.

Event organizer Evenko and the Blue Jays have combined on a wonderful annual event. Fans from Montreal, other parts of Quebec, Ontario and upstate New York have been feted with spring-training games involving the Blue Jays and other major-league teams since 2014 and there is one year left in a five-year contract signed a few years ago.

These games have been a great way for the Jays to show Montreal fans that they are behind the city getting another team to replace the Expos, who spent 36 seasons in Montreal before being transferred to Washington following the 2004 season.

Commissioner Rob Manfred generally supports the idea of another team in Montreal but the scenario is on the backburner because Manfred wants the stadium issues involving the Tampa Rays and Oakland A's rectified before he will consider expansion.

Even though the crowds this week were half of what they were for four consecutive years from 2014-2017, there was fever. These are exhibition games but the head count wasn't that bad for week-day nights: 50,000 and change total for two games.

The day before the games began, the fever had hit a high note Sunday at another ExposFest celebrity gala as more than 600 people attended an autograph session involving former Expos at the Embassy Plaza in the suburb of Laval.

This is the third year promoter Perry Giannias and his family have organized fundraising events with donations going to the Kat D DIPG Foundation at the Montreal Children's Hospital in honour of Perry's niece Catherine Demes, who died at age five of a rare brain disease.

Derek Aucoin, a 6-foot-7 right-hander, who pitched for the Expos in two games in 1996, couldn't be missed because of his sheer height. Down beside him was the legendary Steve Rogers, who on occasion could be seen blow-kissing balls to make the autograph that more special for the customer in front of him.

Next over was Larry Parrish, who was kind enough to write the Foreword for my upcoming book about the 1981 Expos called Blue Monday. Beside Parrish was Chris Speier, who like Rogers, stays in terrific shape.

Ellis Valentine was having fun chatting up people, including Linda Walker, who travelled all the way from Saskatoon to attend the event. A year ago, Walker got the surprise of her life while she was sitting in Windsor Station in downtown Montreal.

Walker was wearing Expos regalia and this man spotted her, went over, gave her a hug and asked, "Do you want me to sign your shirt?'' Walker said yes. Then the man said, "Do you want me to autograph your baseball?'' Walker said yes. Then the man said, "Do you want me to autograph your picture?" Walker again said yes.

"Then he gave me another hug. I couldn't believe it,'' Walker told me.

Wanna know who the man was? Ellis Valentine.

"He initiated all the moves,'' Walker said. "He saw that I was wearing all the Expos' stuff and he wanted to come over and see me.''

Jose Vidro was sitting right smack in the middle of the autograph room. He was confirming to me that a U.S. fan will have the pleasure of being with him at a Washington Nationals game next September. The fan, through U.S. agent Adam Rauch, had contacted me through Clayton Richer of the Baseball Hot Corner website to see if something could be done to arrange a meeting

A U.S. company is organizing a corporate tailgate event and burger cook-off near Nationals Stadium prior to the Nationals' game vs. Chicago Cubs game Sept. 7. The company wanted a former star player to mix and mingle with corporate guests at the tailgate and then join them in a suite afterward.

The client is a huge fan of Vidro in particular. Vidro is going to be the guest judge for the Sutter Home Build a Better Burger Contest.

"We are really excited to host Jose,'' Rauch said.

"It's awesome,'' Vidro told me about being able to accommodate the client next fall.

As the autograph trail continued, Ken Hill was there. So was Darrin Fletcher. Spaceman Lee was accompanied by his wife Diana, who kept her husband in line. Earlier in the day at the Cummings Jewish Centre Seniors Foundation Sports Celebrity Breakfast, Lee was a guest along with Tim Raines and David Palmer.

Then further down from Lee was Orlando Cabrera, who was asking a reporter how the Jays were going to do this season.

Next was John Wetteland, who jumped out of his autograph chair to give this reporter a surprise hug when I offered my hand and said, "John, always good to see you.''

The autograph session was followed by a banquet. For $150, goers could get autographs, a four-course meal, beer, wine and dessert.

The late afternoon-night gig, complete with a silent auction, raised about $75,000. Baseball fever in Montreal? You gotta believe it.

 

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