Underexposed

October 07, 2001

Me, I like to be alone. I like wide open spaces and crickets and
long walks without seeing a soul. That's why I like Montreal
Expos games.

Attendance in Montreal is awful. No, I mean seriously awful.
This is the only team in the big leagues with a WON'T CALL
window. On your way to get a beer, it's not unusual to stumble
upon two or three foul balls that nobody's gotten around to
picking up. Mound meetings must be held at a whisper.

Last week the Expos concluded their final homestand of the year
or, perhaps, ever. Talk is that they may get shut down or move.
They could be ex-'Pos soon. So like tens of others, I decided to
take in one last game.

This meant going to Olympic Stadium, the world's only
46,620-seat commode, where the artificial turf is 14 years old,
the visitors' clubhouse has a painted concrete floor and the
roof doesn't open anymore. This season fewer people went there
than ever before--a little more than 600,000, or less than the
combined crowds of two Indianapolis 500s. Montreal's average
attendance of 7,648 was worse than that of 10 minor league
clubs, including three Class A teams. In fact, a series of
seminars on The Art of Nostril-Hair Trimming would draw better.

When the Expos list their attendance, they actually list their
attendance: Philippe was there. The Dumonts and their niece,
Denise, came. And that weird guy in the foam hat.

At the game I saw last week, against no less a team than the
contending New York Mets, the Expos announced a crowd of 5,314.
That was a lie. Actual attendance was 3,918. I know. I
hand-counted every person there.

O.K., some people could have been at the concession stands, but
not many. The concessions manager said only five beer stands out
of 50 were open. The night before, one stand sold eight cases of
beer--John Daly used to go through that in nine holes. For this
year's Grey Cup, 600 concession workers will be on the job. For
the Mets, there were 35. That was just as well, because the
biggest sellers are french fries covered in gravy and cheese. As
people eat them in the stands, you can hear their arteries harden.

This makes you wonder how many people were actually in the seats
on Sept. 19, when the Expos said the crowd was 2,887 for a game
against the Florida Marlins. Put it this way, Larry King has
been married to more people than that.

"Now you know why some of us like road games," says Montreal
utilityman Geoff Blum. "You feel you're a professional athlete
again." And it's not only the players. It took Stephanie Biddle
about 47 minutes to sing the national anthems that night. "I had
to keep waiting for the echoes to die down," she said.

Still, in some ways, Olympic Stadium is the best place to be a
fan. If you don't appear on the giant scoreboard TV at least
three times at an Expos game, you must be hiding under your
seat. You know how other teams recognize groups on the
scoreboard? In Montreal you get THE EXPOS WELCOME FRED! If you
call and ask who's pitching tonight, the operator replies, "Whom
would you like to see?"

"It's so quiet," Mets pitcher Kevin Appier says. "You can sit in
the dugout and hear people order."

It's a wonderful place to be a heckler, too. Every heckle is
heard clearly by everybody in the building. "You can't pretend
you don't hear it," Mets catcher Mike Piazza said. "The guy
knows you can hear him. Tonight, the guy was on my hair, my
commercial, everything. What could I do? He had me."

Yogi Berra said, "If people don't want to come to the ballpark,
how are you going to stop them?" Almost every good young player
the Expos have had (Randy Johnson, Larry Walker, Marquis
Grissom, Pedro Martinez et al.) has been shipped out or has left
as a free agent. Sacre bleu! Why get your heart broken? "I
caught Expo Fever once," a talk-radio fan recently revealed.
"It's mono."

Every day brings another rumor about where the team might be
moved--Washington, Northern Virginia, Charlotte, Las Vegas,
Portland. There's also talk of baseball's eliminating two
franchises, and the Expos are always one of the two. One way or
the other, it looks as if the Montreal Expos will be expunged.

It may be the All-Star break before anybody in Montreal notices.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Montreal's average attendance of 7,648 was worse than that of
10 minor league clubs.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)