Baseball Crosses the Border
April 14, 1969
Baseball has long been known as the great American game, from the President’s throwing of the first pitch to the national anthem before each game. But on a sixty-five degree night in April 1969, the national pastime went international. That night, 29,814 fans at Jarry Park witnessed the first home game ever played by the expansion Montreal Expos.
A small stadium set in the suburbs of Montreal, “Le Parc Jarry” was meant as a temporary structure to house the Expos until a proper stadium was built for the 1976 Olympics. The small park was duly expanded to house 28,000 fans, but the only covered seats belonged to sportswriters in the press box. And since the city had only a year to prepare the stadium for the arrival of their new team, fans arriving to the ballpark for the home opener were greeted by the smell of wet paint and thousands of folding chairs.
While the grounds crew accommodated as much of the crowd as possible, the start of the game was delayed for more than fifteen minutes. Luckily, the uncharacteristically warm weather and festive atmosphere kept fans from being too troubled by minor nuisances, and when Montreal took the field in their unique tri-color uniforms to the background music of an organist (a novelty in those days) the crowd went crazy.
Six days earlier, the Expos had played — and won — their first game ever, defeating the eventual World Champion Mets and their ace right-hander Tom Seaver 11-10 at Shea Stadium. Today they faced the St. Louis Cardinals, the reigning NL champs. Against the veteran Redbirds, the Expos played exactly the way they were supposed to — horribly. Making five errors and giving up seven runs in one inning, the Expos looked pitiful.
But later in the night, the Expos stormed back, eventually defeating their American opposition 8-7. The winning pitcher was Dan McGinn; Mack Jones took one ball deep and knocked in five runs and the short, round Coco Laboy doubled and scored the run that gave the Expos the first home win in their nation’s history.
The Expos surprised even themselves with their quick start, and all were stunned when righty Bill Stoneman pitched a no-hitter on April 17 — a feat some older teams still have to achieve. Although the Expos soon slumped to the cellar of the National League, baseball fever continued to run rampant in Montreal. Jarry Park had the fewest seats in the majors, but the Expos still drew over 1.2 million attendees in their first year of play — more than double the number of fans that showed up to see the expansion San Diego Padres at San Diego Stadium.