The Rays have reportedly received permission from MLB to explore playing games in Montreal

Montreal hasn't hosted regular season Major League Baseball since the end of the 2004 season.

Montreal baseball
A photo from the last Expos game in Montreal in Sept. 2004. –Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP, File

The city of Montreal hasn’t hosted a regular season Major League Baseball game since Sept. 29, 2004. After the season, the Expos moved to Washington D.C. and became the Nationals. According to a new report, there might be a time when baseball returns to the Canadian city for more than an exhibition game.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been cleared to examine the possibility of playing a portion of the team’s home games in Montreal, according ESPN reporter Jeff Passan. The plan would be to play home games in both Tampa and Montreal.

Rays management received permission from the league’s executive council to “explore a plan” regarding the multiple city approach. The team would play its early-season games in the warmer climate of Tampa before moving to Montreal.

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As Passan reported, a key component of the plan would be for the new stadiums to be built in both Tampa and Montreal. This has so far proven to be an unachievable task in Florida, where the Rays have been attempting to build a new stadium for years with no success. The team’s current lease at Tropicana Field (where the Rays play home games) runs through 2027.

Montreal organizers appear to have already made progress on the stadium front. A group of investors led by Stephen Bronfman (whose father, Charles, was the Expos’ original owner) announced in May that they had an agreement to develop a 950,000 square-foot site known as Peel Basin with the goal of building a new stadium.

“Things could happen very quickly, that’s what Major League Baseball has always told us,” Bronfman told the Montreal Gazette at the announcement on May 22. “They said to be prepared because things can happen very quickly. It’s a tough position, I don’t do that much press because I don’t like treading down the same stories and I don’t like the idea of overly building hype because at the end of the day I’m not controlling the agenda. I’m trying my best to temper things but with a positive agenda.”

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Still, an enormous amount of details remains to be worked out even if the stadiums are built. Exactly how many games the Rays would play in each city is unknown, as is the long-term viability of a team playing home games in cities separated by almost 1,500 miles. According to Passan, the timeline of the partial move to Montreal depends on Tampa getting approval for a new stadium.

The Rays are currently in second place in the American League East behind the Yankees, though the team leads the Red Sox by three games. Fighting it out in a division with big market teams is notable, considering the Rays’ payroll is the lowest in the league (while Boston and New York are first and second, respectively).

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Yet despite the team’s winning record (43-31), Tampa ranks second-to-last in 2019 attendance, averaging just 14,545 per game.

Prior to leaving to become the Washington Nationals, the Expos played in Montreal from 1969-2004. Since leaving, baseball has returned to Montreal for exhibition games played by the remaining Canadian MLB team: The Toronto Blue Jays.