“Once in a while when they would get a decent crowd — when they were good and fighting for things late — it was loud, it rocked in there, the ball jumped,” said Todd Zeile, the longtime major league infielder. “The sound was different there — the announcer, the smell of the food, ‘Youppi!’ the mascot, all those things were very unique to Montreal and very French-Canadian influenced.”
As a young player, Zeile found the differences disorienting. In time, though, he grew fond of the Montreal’s art and architecture and came to view trips there almost as brief European excursions. But by 2003, when he played for the Expos, the team was splitting its home games with San Juan, Puerto Rico. The Expos ranked last in the N.L. in attendance in each of their final seven seasons, and Zeile said Olympic Stadium sounded hollow, like an echo chamber.
Now the Rays are the team that struggles to draw, and Zeile sees some merit to their idea of eventually splitting home games with Montreal, which M.L.B. has endorsed, at least in concept. But he said it would be hard for a team to win that way.
“It could be interesting from the perspective of trying to get the most out of a franchise that’s not getting full support in one home — but you don’t want to take the risk of having lack of support in two homes,” Zeile said.
“And there’s certainly going to be an opportunity cost when you consider that you’re going to feel like you’re on the road twice as much as you actually are. It’s hard to have two homes during the season and feel like you’re ever really coming home from a road trip.”
For Warren Cromartie, an Expos outfielder and first baseman from 1974 to ’83, the split-season option is more appealing. Cromartie is now the hitting coach for the Yomiuri Giants in Japan, but he has maintained close ties to Montreal, gathering an investment group to bring a team back to the city, which has staged popular spring training exhibitions and is targeting the Yankees for a visit next spring.