Expos' remaining staff closing shop

Sunday, December 26, 2004

MONTREAL -- The artificial turf is missing, leaving a concrete floor at barren Olympic Stadium and an even harder truth in Montreal: The Expos are long gone.

Since the end of the season, Claude Delorme, the Expos' executive vice president for business affairs, has overseen the task of winding up the team's operations in Montreal.

"There's no doubt that we prolonged our life," Delorme said. "We were able to extend ourselves a few extra years that people didn't think we would."

Delorme's unenviable new role began in earnest on Sept. 29 when team president Tony Tavares confirmed the franchise's long-anticipated move to Washington, D.C., for 2005. The Expos played their final game at Olympic Stadium that evening, an anticlimactic 9-1 loss to Florida.

Now, the protective screen behind home plate is rolled up, though it remains suspended from the desolate stadium's roof -- for the moment. The padded blue outfield walls -- 325 feet in the corners, and 404 feet to dead center -- have been placed in storage in the bowels of the building.

Nets that served as foul poles have been removed, though the bright orange lines on the roof survive as reminders of a Dave Kingman moonshot that necessitated a new ground rule and a perilous paint job.

A familiar and long-serving reminder of the longest homer in stadium history has been removed, though.

There is now an empty space where Seat 13 used to be in Section 351, Row C among the rows of grungy burnt orange seats in the stadium's distant middle deck. The yellow seat that marked Willie Stargell's mammoth 535-foot homer off Wayne Twitchell on May 20, 1978, has gone to the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in St. Catharine's, Ontario.

Back in the team's offices, a nondescript black binder sits on a shelf behind Delorme. He began to put its contents together three years ago and said it proved an invaluable resource in winding up the team's operations in Montreal.

"It's basically a to-do list," Delorme said. "There were pages for every department and every individual. From disposal of the office furniture to ensuring that the alarm and telephone systems were canceled, it addressed the nuts and bolts of our operations."

The worst part of the job for Delorme was whittling down the staff. No one was surprised by the move, though the shock was significant after years of rumors.

"The human factor was definitely by far the biggest issue I had to deal with," Delorme said. "I really thought that we were all prepared mentally for this, but when it happened it was a lot more severe than we probably all anticipated. It was a family setting here and it was very emotional."

The Expos' remaining skeleton staff is down to 10 people. This Wednesday, the club set up card tables for a farewell lunch as several more long-serving employees worked their final day.

"I don't think I've had the opportunity to really reflect and say, 'Wow, this is finished. It's time to turn the page,'" Delorme said. "It's probably going to happen in the next two weeks, during the Christmas holidays."

Media relations and services director Monique Giroux finished up work in her empty office Wednesday after sending out the Expos' last official press release, which indicated how the team's artifacts were being distributed among various caretaker institutions.

An original employee who joined the expansion franchise in November 1968, Giroux was in good spirits despite the bleak environment.

"It's just like any other thing, it's the end of an era -- thank you, goodbye," Giroux said, breaking into resigned laughter. "I don't have any hard feelings. It's been a great ride. The only thing I regret is that we didn't have the downtown stadium. That would have been a big asset for the city."

Condominiums are under construction on the site just south of the Bell Centre, where the failed stadium project would have been built.

The only championship in the Expos' 36-year history was the 1981 National League East title, when Montreal won a playoff against Philadelphia after finishing first in the division during the second half of the strike-shortened season.

While she doesn't see baseball returning to Montreal any time soon, Giroux wouldn't rule out the possibility much farther down the road.

"It's a big market," Giroux said. "You never know."

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