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Saturday, May 15, 2010

Leaving Las Vegas: The Blue Jays Should Move Their AAA Team To Montreal

With the news today that Toronto Blue Jays GM, and Montreal native, Alex Anthopoulos has approved radio broadcasts to be transmitted in French for the first time in team history, my initial reaction was; what took so long?

After the Montreal Expos left Quebec in 2004, French speaking baseball fans had no team to root for. Instead, they were left to cheer for individual players from their home province.

Some current and former players from Quebec include: Eric Bedard, Eric Gagne, Russell Martin, Pete LaForest and uber prospect Phillipe Aumont.

Although this may stir feelings of regional pride, it wasn't anything to get excited about.

Until now.

Jeremy Filosa and Alex Agostino of CKAC radio in Montreal will begin their broadcasts for this Friday and Saturday's games. To generate some added buzz, the radio station has launched a ticket giveaway contest, "We gave away two tickets to our listeners with Porter Air and the Royal York (hotel) is participating as well," Agostino said.

With a fickle fan base that has grown cynical and discontent after the JP Ricciardi years, reaching out to baseball mad Quebec is both logical and way over due.

But is it enough?

Not for me. In 2003, when Bud Selig (who bought the franchise from Jeffrey Loria on behalf of MLB) torpedoed the Expos season, thus sealing their fate, he did more than relocate a franchise. He spat in the face of Baseball History.

Montreal has a long and rich baseball legacy that predates the Expos by more than 70 years. The Royals began playing as a minor professional club in 1897. After shutting down in 1917 due to the influenza epidemic and WWI, they resurrected themselves in 1928.

In 1939, The Montreal Royals became the AAA Farm Team for the Brooklyn Dodgers. It was here that the team began to make its most significant mark on the game's history.

The Royals launched the careers of such players as Sparky Anderson, Duke Snyder, Don Drysdale, Gene Mauch (coincidentally the Expos first Manager), Roberto Clemente, Roy Campanella and Tommy Lasorda. As impressive as this is, there is one name that stands head and shoulders above the rest: Jackie Robinson.

After he was signed by Dodgers GM Branch Rickey in 1945, Baseball's "color barrier" was broken in Montreal when Jackie stepped on the field for the Royals in April of 1946. Later in that season, he was followed by two more black players, John Wright and Roy Partlow, both pitchers.

Jackie only played one season with the Royals, but he finished it in spectacular fashion.

After leading Montreal to a Little World Series title, adoring fans actually chased Jackie to the train station to see him off as he embarked on his MLB career. Paraphrasing a remark in the narration of Ken Burns' Documentary, "Baseball", "...it was probably the only day in history that a black man ran from a white mob with love instead of lynching on its mind."

Jackie Robinson would always remember his time in Montreal with fond gratitude. The fans adored him, and the citizens welcomed him and his family. His reception in Brooklyn would be far less tolerant.

The Royals folded in 1960, and seven years later Montreal was awarded a MLB franchise, The Expos.

Although they didn't have any watershed moments like the Royals, the Expos were one of the pioneering teams in baseball in terms of recruiting players from the Caribbean and Central America. Andres Galarraga, Vlad Guerrero and Jose Vidro were but a few names. Not to mention hiring Baseball's first Hispanic GM (Omar Minaya) and first Dominican born Manager (Felipe Alou).

Returning to the topic at hand, JP Ricciardi's decision to move our AAA affiliate from Syracuse to Las Vegas in 2008 was indeed a head scratcher. Not only did it end a 30 year relationship, it moved our farm team from nearby upstate New York to Nevada.

However, recent reports indicate the two year deal JP signed will not be renewed due to the unreasonable travel distance between Las Vegas and Toronto.

Admittedly, I don't have any answers on the question of minor league expansion or relocation. Be that as it may, it’s high time that Major League Baseball honors the legacy that Montreal has indelibly left on this game.

Hey, if history isn't enough of an incentive, just think of all the licensing revenues the league could generate from sales of the Royals classic jerseys.

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