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End of the Expos


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The Last Team With the Expos Nickname Will Play Its Final Game


BURLINGTON, Vt. - Brad Wilkerson earned the nickname the Last Expo for wearing the blue, white and red uniform of a team that no longer existed. On a tour of Japan with other major leaguers last November, Wilkerson dressed as an Expo even though the team had already abandoned Montreal on its way to becoming the Washington Nationals.

But here in Vermont, where the Expos are remembered fondly, there is reason to think the nickname could use a little tweaking. Wilkerson might have been the last Montreal Expo, but the honor of being the final Expos of any kind falls to the young players on this year's version of the Vermont Expos.

On Sept. 8, the team will play its final game with "Expos" on its jerseys. The name will then disappear from professional baseball.

A Class A affiliate of the Nationals in the short-season New York-Penn League, the Vermont Expos kept the name this year largely as a tribute to the major league team that played 100 miles north of here. It has been a fitting tribute, too: Montreal made the playoffs only once in its 36 years, and Vermont has spent every day of this season in last place.

Its fans, while sitting in the wood and concrete stands at the oldest park in minor league baseball, have spent much of the summer debating what the team should be called next year. In an effort to create a logo with national appeal - along the lines of the Durham Bulls or the Portland Sea Dogs - the front office announced a name-your-team contest in June and has been sorting through suggestions, 30,000 in all, ever since.

"There's a lot of mixed emotions," said Mary Ann Scruggs, a nurse's assistant who sits behind home plate and cheers on the team with a cow bell. "I hate to see the Expos go," added Scruggs, who marched in an impromptu protest outside Olympic Stadium before Montreal's final home game last year. "But change is usually good."

The leading contenders seem to be Green Mountain Boys, after the Revolutionary War militia, and Lakemonsters, after a Loch Ness-style beast said to live in Lake Champlain. But Maplebombers, Quarrymen, Foliage, Red Clovers and Jeezum Crows have been bandied about as well.

One person submitted Howlin' Howards, in honor of the state's former governor Howard Dean and his infamous scream. Another politically minded fan, thinking of the state's penchant for electing politicians who are neither Democrat nor Republican, suggested the Independents.

Somebody else offered a wry play on Nationals: the Vermont Locals. Children seem to prefer the proper name of Lake Champlain's monster - Champ - which is already the name of the team's fuzzy green mascot. "But with Champs," said C. J. Knudsen, Vermont's general manager, "when you have a record of 21-45, it could make for a long season." At one point this summer, Vermont had a 21-45 record.

The state's baseball history, however, is more distinguished. The field where the team plays was built in 1906, six years before Fenway Park, the oldest park in the majors, opened. The original stands burned down in 1912, and a decade later the park was rebuilt into something that resembles today's stadium, Centennial Field.

Other than Champ's routines on the top of dugouts, a game here has much more in common with minor league baseball from decades past than with the version of the sport put on in most small cities today. There are no luxury boxes or food courts at Centennial Field.

Instead, green, wooden reserved seats sit underneath an overhang behind home plate. Broad concrete bleachers line either side of the infield. You can buy a Magic Hat beer at one of the trailers behind the stands, but you cannot bring it into the bleachers on the first-base side. They are alcohol-free.

When the Expos began play here in 1994, they seemed destined to live up to Vermont's baseball pedigree, winning a championship in their third year. Centennial Field's previous occupant had been a Class AA team that inspired a local T-shirt proclaiming it "The Most Successful Franchise in Baseball History." In its five years of existence, that team won three championships and lost in the final round the other two years.

An affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds at first and then the Seattle Mariners, it often sneaked into the playoffs in the season's final days. Its stars - Paul O'Neill and Kal Daniels one year, Barry Larkin and Chris Sabo another, Ken Griffey Jr. during the final season - then got hot in the postseason. But the team drew poorly, particularly during the cold New England spring, and eventually left Burlington for Ohio, where it now plays in a modern stadium.

The Vermont Expos, meanwhile, suffered from Montreal's financial troubles in recent years. Top prospects who demanded big signing bonuses rarely came through Burlington, and the team has not had a winning season since 2000.

But Montreal nostalgia has helped make this season something of a success anyway. The team sponsored a baseball radio show in Montreal, as a way, Knudsen said, "to let people know that in fact the Expos still exist."

On July 22, Vermont wore the powder-blue uniforms that Montreal did during its 1980's heyday, and Andre Dawson, the former Expos slugger, came to the ballpark. Merchandise sales and attendance have increased this year.

Still, the owner - Ray Pecor, a local businessman - and other team officials think they can do better with a name that connects the team more clearly to Vermont. They want to make the team's merchandise among the 10 best selling of all minor league teams. Last year, it was about 50th.

"This was a tough decision for us to make," said Knudsen, 30, who drove up to Olympic Stadium as a youngster to watch Dawson and Tim Raines. "But obviously, we're at the point now where we need to make enough revenue to cover our costs."

The team will announce the new name sometime around the World Series. Whatever it is - Vermont Trail Boys, Green Mountain Moose Tracks or something else - Knudsen said he hoped it would eventually join skiing, maple syrup and Ben & Jerry's as a symbol of the state.

He also hopes, he said, that the new owners of the Nationals - to be announced soon by Major League Baseball, which controls the team - would invest enough to make Vermont competitive again.


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Sniff, sniff.

I kinda wish they were keeping the name.

Disclaimer: If this comment is about an NBA uniform from 2017-2018 or later, do not constitute a lack of acknowledgement of the corporate logo to mean anything other than "the corporate logo is terrible and makes the uniform significantly worse."



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