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 Biddie about 47 minutes to sing the national anthems that night. "I had to keep waiting for the echoes to the 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?"