Montreal is a good baseball town

By Greg Lucas/Fox SportsNet

The Astros are fighting to climb in the standings and hope to be able to finish as high as third in the NL Central. But the Expos may be fighting for a more important spot, their very existence.

I'm not referring to the future of manager Felipe Alou. It has been written that he will not return to manage the club next year. That's not his decision, but apparently will be made by Jeffrey Loria who holds control of the club.

The real decisions regarding the Expos go right to the bone. Will the club continue to operate in Montreal?

Admittedly there have been many problems of late in acquiring the commitments both public and private to allow a plan to build a new outdoor downtown stadium. And with attendance totals dropping with every homestand, there are many who fear it is only a matter of time before Loria asks Major League Baseball for permission to move.

Here is the problem. Montreal is still a great market. Certainly under the right circumstances it has much greater potential than a franchise in the Washington, D.C., Charlotte, Buffalo, Indianapolis, Nashville or Portland areas.

But to fulfill that potential Montreal must have a new stadium. The Olympic Stadium is far more baseball friendly than it was in its early years. But it is still a sterile, too large and somewhat remote place to play. There is a subway stop on the grounds, but it is not "where the action is," downtown.

Unlike places like Baltimore, Cleveland, Denver and Houston that sold construction of new downtown ballparks as a means to bring about further urban revitalization, Montreal doesn't need that. The downtown area is already a lively place with clubs and restaurants Instead the ballclub needs to be there.

Montreal has shown in the past that it can and will support a winning ballclub. It cannot be held against the real and potential fans in the area that attendance is dropping. It is human nature to withhold placing one's faith in a professional sports franchise that may not be long for your city.

Want examples? When it was known the Braves were leaving Milwaukee for Atlanta tickets could barely be given away. Yet those same Milwaukee Braves were pulling in over two million fans a season back when two million was double what was considered successful.

In the NFL, attendance at Houston Oiler games dropped to nothing when the team was forced to play out its lease even though a move to Nashville had already been announced.

The fact that Montreal is barely averaging 12,000 per game should not be construed as firm evidence that it is time to pull out. Certainly ownership can't make any money on those totals and that translates into less money to sign players who can potentially make the club successful on the field. But the Montreal market still has potential. Probably more long term potential than any place the club could move.

Owner Jeffery Loria may already know that. In all that has been reported on the situation, he is the one person who has not made any threats to leave. But it is assumed that is the next move as soon as he succeeds in buying out his Canadian partners.

It could be. But it might not be the right one.

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