Former Major League Baseball legend Jose Bautista says Montreal is the ideal city to be awarded a franchise when the league expands.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is eager to increase the number of teams to 32, opening up the possibility of Montreal returning to the big time.
The Montreal Expos played in the National League (NL) East division from 1969 until 2004 and were the first MLB franchise located outside the United States.
The controversial decision to move the franchise to Washington DC left Montreal without a professional baseball team and fans there are desperate for things to change.
Nashville, Portland, Oregon, Austin, San Antonio, Charlotte and Orlando are all in contention to be awarded an MLB franchise, but Bautista believes Montreal should be considered.
“There’s a few around the nation that definitely deserve their attention,” he told MLB lines site Betway. “Nashville is intriguing, and I know that there are others that are trying to get a franchise awarded.
“Montreal have been there before and done it before, and apparently have some of the finances and the stadium resources in place.
“Canada loves their sports, and I think Montreal supported the Expos in a tremendous way. I would love to see them get it, it would be amazing, creating a new inter-Canadian rivalry with the Jays. That would be amazing to see.”
Montreal currently has a population of around four million people, making it the largest North American city without an MLB franchise.
Bautista’s former team the Toronto Blue Jays are Canada’s only representative in MLB, and adding Montreal to the line-up would be a major boost to them.
The Montreal Baseball Project was established by former Expos star Warren Cromartie in 2012 and has been lobbying hard to bring professional baseball back to the city.
Cromartie played for the Expos between 1974 and 1983 and has retained strong links with the local community since ending his career.
His efforts and buy-in from Montreal’s business and civic leaders have reinvigorated the city’s appetite for baseball in recent years.
Exhibition games staged in the city have attracted massive crowds, perfectly highlighting the appetite for baseball with sports fans there.
Despite spending the last 18 years without an MLB team, the Expos brand has remained hugely popular with Montreal sports fans.
Sales of merchandise items such as baseball caps continue to outstrip many other teams, demonstrating the Expos’ enduring popularity.
While there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome, Cromartie and his associates remain confident about bringing professional baseball back to Montreal.
Bautista admits he is excited to see what the future holds and has urged MLB bosses to concentrate its efforts on league expansion in Canada.
“I know it’s getting some consideration, and hopefully it gets more once the league moves their focus from solving two situations at once with franchises like Tampa, to look at the expansion picture a little bit more,” added Bautista.
“Hopefully, Montreal is one of those markets that gets that attention.”