The Expos’ final days in Montreal
The road out of town for the Montreal Expos has been a long and convoluted one. Thanks to the Canadian Journalism Foundation’s Greg Clark Award, I was able to take an inside look at major-league baseball’s final days in the city.
My fellowship, set up by John Fraser, granted me some behind-the-scenes access from Sept. 24-29, as the team played its last six games in Montreal. During that time, rumours of the club’s move began heating up until they were finally confirmed on the 29th.
Throughout my six days there, I watched Expos employees swing on a pendulum of emotion, from defiance to resignation and everything in between. Through the Greg Clark Award, I was able to cultivate a few key sources who opened up in frank off-the-record discussions about the mood of the staff. Had it not been for the award, I am sure they would not have been as forthcoming with me. As well, I was able to gain the confidence of a couple key players who helped me understand the feeling in the clubhouse.
My time was spent in a wide variety of ways, often in lengthy discussions with people and always ending with a baseball game (thankfully!). Two images really made an impression: One day I watched the team’s senior staff film a thank you video message to be played during the final home game, an emotional time during which some employees fought the urge to cry; Another day I watched the team’s mascot, wearing a big orange suit, try to raise the spirits of food workers who had just received letters of termination. Throughout this time I spoke with my key sources, sometimes getting the information I wanted, other times having doors slammed in my face. It proved to be an exercise in persistence and creativity.
To some, my presence was not welcome. Professional sports teams function as closed groups that view outsiders with suspicion. The uncertainty around the Expos’ future only made things worse. Some employees wanted no part of an “intruder” chronicling their final days. Major League Baseball, which owns the Expos, had also placed a gag order on the club’s staff. Without my sources doing their best to balance the needs of both the team and myself, my experience would not have been as rewarding as it turned out to be.
At the same time, I was able to put together layered and informed journalism together for my employer, The Canadian Press. The inside access gave me some story ideas which I was later able to pursue in an on-the-record fashion. But the piece I was most proud of was a lengthy look at what went on behind-the-scenes over the final six days, taking snapshots of what I had seen and heard to give readers a sense of what it was like. It was one of the most challenging things I have ever written, meeting the story’s demands while protecting my sources.
I would very much like to thank John Fraser, Jody Jacobson and the Canadian Journalism Foundation for this memorable and beneficial experience. I cannot express my gratitude enough to you all. As well, I’d like to thank Scott White, CP’s editor-in-chief, for encouraging me to apply for the Greg Clark Award. I hope future recipients are able to take as much from their experience as I was.
Shi Davidi, Toronto