Tom did a great recap of what it was like to be at Olympic Stadium over the weekend. For the second year in a row, baseball took over this city and as a baseball fan who was born and raised in Montreal, it is fantastic to see.
Last year really started my Blue Jays adoption as a fan. They brought baseball back, even if it was for a couple of days. I always liked Marcus Stroman from before he was even drafted, even though he went (and is going) to Duke. Add that in with guys like Daniel Norris, Jose Bautista and Alex Anthopoulos (a Montrealer as a GM? Seriously?) and I was already on my way.
This offseason, bringing in Justin Smoak, Josh Donaldson, Michael Saunders and Russell Martin who independently have been four of my favourite players (Seattle was one of my pit stops as a fan since 2004, if you couldn't tell) sealed the deal for me. When the Blue Jays came back this year, I would be a Blue Jays fan.
For me, these two games this year were so much more about baseball. Last year was about the emotion of baseball being back--and a tribute to Gary Carter and the 1994 team (two of the most emotional topics for any Montreal baseball fan) cemented that feeling.
This year, it was about baseball. Yes, they had tributes to Vladimir Guerrero, Orlando Cabrera, Tony Perez, Roberto Alomar and Cito Gaston, but this was not as much about nostalgia or the shock to the system of seeing 96,000 at Olympic Stadium. This was about baseball, and about Russell Martin.
I knew of Russell growing up. We grew up in the same area of Montreal. I went to a summer baseball camp run by his father. Russell would show up. Even as a 10-year-old, seeing 12-year-old Russell around was like being around greatness. The 10-year-old me never would have dreamed he'd be a Major Leaguer. He was simply an older, great baseball player. As a kid, that was enough to be a celebrity.
This weekend, he was an actual celebrity.
The ovations. Wow. The only ovation that rivals that would have to be Tim Raines return to Olympic Stadium at the 2001 Home Opener. The emotions during the anthems on Friday and when his father came to get him in Saturday's game were very visible.
I saw comments asking how many actual Montreal baseball fans there were and how many were travelling Jays fans. Out of town Blue Jays fans were present--to be sure, a lot of you are proof of that--but the majority were absolutely Quebec baseball fans. Martin made them into Blue Jays fans (along with, as someone mentioned during Pitch Talks, a Quebec French-language broadcast deal which brought back french-language broadcasters who were Expos mainstays.)
I can't believe that they got the same amount of people as last year with no Mets fans making the trip up (although the long weekend definitely brought more Jays fans from across Canada, so it may have been a wash). Last year, it took about eight innings (and a walk-off rally) on Friday before the Jays felt like the home team. This year, it was instant. I also didn't hear very many "Let's Go Expos" chants, if any.
These two games were absolutely about baseball, even though they were glorified exhibition games. I had two fans behind me hilariously thinking each pitcher going an inning was a strategy to win the game, ignoring that it was Spring Training.
I got to see Miguel Castro pitch, and let me tell you. He looked like a young Pedro Martinez. Tall, lanky, and somehow amazing velocity. I was sitting behind home plate, and it was amazing to me. His stuff made it glaringly obvious to me why the Blue Jays kept him with the team. He looked like a Major League pitcher.
I still don't know if I agree with the move to bring him north for roster and developmental reasons, but after seeing him in person, I fell in love with his stuff and could see how anyone else would as well. I am not saying he will be Pedro Martinez or anything even close, but the similarities in frame and how he looked...
I'm not sure how it looked on TV, but live, up close, behind the plate, I was amazed.
Last year, I remember seeing Stroman pitch. I remember seeing Aaron Sanchez. They were just prospects then. They became mainstays of the Blue Jays already. I don't know if their experiences in Montreal helped in any way, but it couldn't have hurt.
I get the same impression from Castro, Roberto Osuna, Devon Travis, Daniel Norris and others.
It was great to have the baseball world convene on Montreal. It was great to feel like there was a team we could cheer for again. It was great to create new baseball memories instead of remembering old ones.
Thanks for coming, baseball. You're welcome back anytime.