The exhibition games in Montreal are a blast, but they are merely step one of a difficult process

Associated Press
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On April 1 and April 2 Montreal will once again host a couple of exhibition games. This time between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox.

The tickets are almost all gone. As this report notes, the Saturday afternoon game is already sold out. There are still some tickets left for the Friday night game. In all, 106,000 tickets have been sold for the two games. The prices range from $24 to $99.50. Not bad for games that don’t count in a ballpark that is well past its sell-date.

As was the case last year when the Montreal exhibition games were hot tickets, there will be some this year who point to these games and their ticket sales as evidence that Montreal deserves either an expansion team or a relocated major league club. That may very well be the case — it’s a major city with great demographics and its loss of its old club had more to do with the team’s owners than the enthusiasm of the fan base — but we should be careful not to use these exhibition games as a conversation-ender on the matter.

These are, by definition, special occasion games. Selling out two of them, especially given the popularity and quality of the teams involved and their relative proximity to Montreal, while impressive, is not exactly shocking. Selling out 79 more games when the home team stinks, as an expansion team would for a while, and the road teams consist of a lot of Rockies/Braves/Marlins filler, would be another thing. This is a wonderful event they have undertaken in Montreal, but it’s not a predictive one.

Moreover, while this should do nothing to temper the enjoyment of the games for those who go to them or watch them, let’s remember that Major League Baseball is putting on these games for more than just the mere enjoyment of the fans. Rather, they’re using them to bolster its case for the viability of Montreal as a major league city once again. It may, indeed, be viable, but don’t for one moment think that MLB isn’t going to use the success of these games to subtly pressure, say, Oakland or Tampa to step up a bit more when it comes to building new stadiums. And let us not think for one moment that it hasn’t exerted a lot more muscle to both sell tickets for these games and to promote them than it would for, say, a mid-June game between the Expos v.2 and the Diamondbacks. There is a lot of organic love for baseball in Montreal, but it’s getting a nice push from a league with a lot of different motives and agendas.

If baseball comes back to Montreal on a permanent basis — and I believe it should one day — it will be because a lot more happened than a two-game love fest each April. Between those exhibition games and Opening Day for the New Expos will be a lot of political crap, a strong push to get the taxpayers of Montreal to give a billion-dollar gift to a billionaire owner and the possible displacement of some businesses or homes. It may also require a 1994-2004-Expos-style degradation of another city’s team and, ultimately, a lot of fans in another city having their team taken away from them just as the Expos were taken away from Montreal.

In short: for all of the fun those games will be on April 1 and 2, permanent baseball in Montreal will require all of the usual less-than-uplifting business that accompanies the building of ballparks and institution of a new club. Let us enjoy these games, but let us not forget that they are just part of a much larger set of interests.