MONTREAL - While a year has passed since the Expos played out the final inning of their Montreal existence in the fall of 2004, the reception given to Andre Dawson and Gary Carter on Expos Night at the Bell Centre reminded everyone what place the franchise still holds in the hearts of Montrealers.
Receiving standing ovations in this city is nothing new to Carter and Dawson, yet doing so standing on the Canadiens' home-ice was certainly a change of pace for the two Expos legends more accustomed to the Olympic Stadium's infamous green Astroturf.
On a night filled with surprises that included the introductions of both "The Hawk" and "The Kid," a rendition of Take Me Out to the Ball Game, a banner raised to rafters in honor of the franchise, and even Youppi!'s on-ice debut, the Expos finally got the final send off they so richly deserved.
Also on hand for this special celebration were former Expos pitcher Claude Raymond, former VP operations Claude Delorme as well as longtime play-by-play men Jacques Doucet and Dave Van Horne. Unable to attend were fellow Expos legends Rusty Staub and Tim Raines who each had their numbers retired by the Expos in addition to being honored by the Canadiens on this memorable night.
"This whole event is just an unbelievable class move by the Canadiens organization," said Dawson, who turned 51 in July. "It means a lot to me that the spirit of the Expos will carry on here in Montreal. This city was a second home for our family and Montreal will always hold a special place in my heart."
Carter was equally as touched by the Canadiens honoring of his longtime baseball home.
For a second consecutive year, Encore Baseball is working hard with its members and the general population in its campaign to add longtime Expos broadcaster Jacques Doucet's name to list of eligible nomination candidates for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
Only 10 names are submitted to the Cooperstown panel, three of which come from public votes. Last year, Jacques Doucet was among the top 10 in public votes. This year, the goal is to get him into the top three, therefore eligible for nomination.
There's no cost to vote and fans can (and should) vote every day in November. More information, as well as a link to vote, will be available on the Encore Baseball homepage (www.encorebaseballmontreal.com) from the first day of voting, right until the end. Simply click on the "Jacques Doucet in Cooperstown" link.
"What the Canadiens have done here tonight means that the memories of all those great years will live on forever," said the also 51-year-old Carter. "Seeing all these familiar faces like Claude Raymond, Dave Van Horne, Jacques Doucet and of course Andre, all together again is a special reunion and we owe it all to the Canadiens who have done a wonderful thing by bringing us all back together."
No player came to personify the Expos quite like Gary Carter. His connection to the franchise and the city of Montreal was sealed with "The Kid's" induction to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the summer of 2003 as a member of the Expos, the only individual to ever achieve that honor. A catcher who redefined the position and routinely brought fans to their feet at the Olympic Stadium, Carter's six All-Star Game appearances and three Gold Gloves only hint at the talent that earned him a legion of fans in Montreal. His 12 seasons in the city were capped by a return in 1992 that provided the perfect end to his brilliant career. His trademark No. 8 was retired by the team on July 31, 1993.
"It was a real shame how the Expos ended up leaving Montreal," said Carter. "And now seeing how the folks in Washington have completely turned their back on the history and tradition of 36 years of Expos baseball, it really breaks your heart. That is what makes what the Canadiens have done here so much more meaningful."
Nicknamed the "Hawk", Andre Dawson electrified Expos fans throughout the decade he spent in Montreal. The 1977 National League Rookie of the Year did it all, wielding power at the plate, speed on the basepaths, and a cannon of an arm from the outfield. A three-time All-Star Game starter while with the Expos, Dawson's name is spread throughout the team record book, and he remains one of the most beloved players to ever wear the uniform. His No. 10 was retired by the club on July 6, 1997.
"Just getting the chance to be here in front of all these fans wearing a Canadiens jersey with my name on it is a real thrill for me," admitted Dawson. "When I first came to Montreal in the 1970s how could I not become an instant Canadiens fan with all those great teams and players like Guy Lafleur and Larry Robinson winning Stanley Cups. To tell you the truth, I never stopped being a Canadiens fan."
And with this special night now in the books and Youppi! back doing what he does best, Dawson can rest assured that Montreal will never stop being fans of their Expos.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com