ExposNation catches game at Rogers Centre

ExposNation catches game at Rogers Centre

TORONTO -- Among the crowd of 42,639 at Rogers Centre that saw the Blue Jays lose to the Rays, 4-3, on Saturday, was a large contingent of Montreal Expos fans.

ExposNation -- a grassroots movement that supports the former MLB club with some 156,000 Facebook fans -- had 650 people in their sold-out section in the first level outfield. An estimated 1,000 Expos fans were in attendance at large.

"I'm impressed [with the support]," said Annakin Slayd, whose song 'Remember (A Tribute to the Montreal Expos)' has more than 173,000 views on YouTube. "Most of the people actually traveled from Montreal -- who took their weekend, their summer weekend, just to come out here and represent the Expos colours."

Saturday's crowd was about five times the size of last season, as the ExposNation support continues to gather steam.

Former Expo and Blue Jay Brad Wilkerson tweeted his support for the event on Saturday, as did MP and Liberal Party of Canada leader Justin Trudeau. "Good to see more than 1000 members of @ExposNation attending the #BlueJays game today. Gone but not forgotten!," Trudeau tweeted.

The event is a part of the growing ExposNation movement that's purpose is twofold.

"It's to celebrate the history of the Expos, and it's to promote that there's still a fan base in Montreal, that there's a passionate fan base, and that it is still a viable market," ExposNation chairman Matthew Ross said.

It all started in 2010, when Andre Dawson was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame as an Expo, sparking the nostalgia and fan base that had become indifferent in the team's waning years.

"The induction of Andre Dawson in 2010 was the catalyst. … that got people talking again," Ross said. "Then when Gary Carter passed away in February 2012, an outpouring of nostalgia really took hold."

The memory for some baseball fans may be those final years, when the club had trouble drawing large crowds to Olympic Stadium, and a club that was more often than not near the bottom of the National League East. However, there was a time when there was a vibrant fan base in Montreal.

In the 1980s, the Expos drew over two million fans in a season on multiple occasions.

"Loved playing in Montreal. … it was a fun time," said former Expo Bill Atkinson, who was among the 1,000 in attendance and pitched for the club in parts of four seasons in the late 1970s. "The fans were great, the people."

Even Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has fond memories of his trips to Montreal as a member of the Mets.

"I loved it there. I loved going to that town," said Gibbons, who also happened to get his first hit in the big leagues against Montreal's Bryn Smith in 1984. "Mets had some good teams back then, Montreal had some good teams. I just enjoyed it."

After the 1994 strike ruined the Expos chances at a World Series despite having baseball's best record, that was when they lost their momentum.

"We lost about 20-25 percent of our fan base, like that. That we never got back," Ross said.

But on Saturday, that was all behind them. It was a time to celebrate the great history of the Expos, the fans, and the city that embraced it.

"Once you fall in love with the place, it's hard to get away from," Atkinson said.

Evan Peaslee is an associate reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @EvanPeaslee. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.