March 6, 1969: Montreal Expos’ first spring training game

Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Jim Fanning (left) and John McHale (right) are considered the architects of the Montreal Expos who played their first spring training game on March 6, 1969 in Fort Myers, Fla. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame)

Canadian Baseball Hall of Famers Jim Fanning (left) and John McHale (right) are considered the architects of the Montreal Expos, who played their first spring training game on March 6, 1969 in Fort Myers, Fla. (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame)

On February 24, I wrote about the Toronto Blue Jays’ first spring training game that took place on March 11, 1977 in Dunedin, Fla.

But what happened in the Montreal Expos’ first spring training contest eight years earlier?

To find out, I trekked over to the D.B. Weldon Library at Western University to track down an account of the game on microfilm. I managed to uncover a Montreal Gazette article written by Ted Blackman.

Here are the details:

- On March 6, 1969, the Expos defeated the Kansas City Royals 9-8 in front of 1,768 fans at Terry Park Ballfield in Fort Myers, Fla. This stadium was the Royals’ spring training home from 1969 to 1987 and was known for its hard and unpredictable playing surface. Blackman wrote that half of the hits in this game were due to “strange bounces over the fielders’ heads.”

- It was only fitting that the Expos play the Royals in their first professional game. From 1928 to 1960, the International League team that played in Montreal was nicknamed the Royals. Blackman notes in his account of the game that the Kansas City Royals players were “wearing uniforms identical to those of the old Montreal club.”

- Florida governor Claude Kirk threw out the first pitch, while Expos owner Charles Bronfman made a short speech in French to the fans prior to the game.

- Trailing 8-6 in the top of the ninth, Expos first baseman Bob Bailey belted a 423-foot, three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Expos ahead 9-8. Hard-throwing rookie right-hander Bob Reynolds, who pitched just one game for Montreal in the 1969 regular season, registered the final three outs for the Expos in the bottom of the frame.

- The first pitcher to take the mound for the Expos in their spring training debut was Jack Billingham, who later starred on two World Series-winning Cincinnati Reds teams in 1975 and 1976. Billingham, who allowed four runs on eight hits in three innings in Montreal’s first spring contest, was dealt to the Houston Astros prior to pitching a single regular season game for the Expos.

- The rest of the Expos staff was also hit hard. Left-hander Dan McGinn was the most impressive, limiting the Royals to one run in three innings. But Carroll Sembera, a slender, 155-pound righty, allowed four runs on four hits and three walks to the Royals in his two innings of work.

- In fact, Blackman indicates in his game report that Sembera was so wild that the Royals almost scored three runs on a wild pitch. In the eighth inning with the bases loaded and a full count on the batter, all of the Royals runners were on the move when Sembera uncorked a wild pitch. Two runs scored while Expos catcher John Bateman retrieved the ball. But Bateman managed to tag the third runner out that was attempting to score.

- The Expos’ second spring training game took place the next day at West Palm Beach Municipal Stadium. This was the Expos’ home stadium that they shared with the Atlanta Braves. That day, they would compete against the Braves. Propelled by a lineup that included Hall of Famer Hank Aaron, future Blue Jay Rico Carty and Aaron’s brother Tommie, as well as three shutout innings from Phil Niekro, the Braves prevailed 4-3.

- It’s interesting to note that Felipe Alou, later a beloved manager with the Expos, was the starting centre fielder and leadoff hitter for the Braves in that game.

- Also, in that second Expos spring game, St-Jean, Que., native Claude Raymond, who later pitched for the Expos, hurled the final three innings for the Braves.

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10 thoughts on “March 6, 1969: Montreal Expos’ first spring training game

  1. Fantastic piece Kevin – I really enjoyed that … lots of familiar names. Carroll Sembera, who now is deceased, trained me when I joined the MLB Scouting Bureau. He made and drank Shiner Beer in Texas.

    Sitting in Bogota, Columbia as I read this … a nice slice of home!

    Tom

  2. Great photo, Great memory of a team that I still dearly miss. I was just a young lad in ’69 and it’s a treat to have the chance to read about the Expos first Spring Training game so many years later. In 1988 I lived with a family in a small town in Quebec while studying French . I’ll never forget the nights listening on the radio to the Expos in the garage with the family, with plenty of food and drink and talking baseball (in French) with my host family. Quebecers throughout La Belle Province loved that team! Many still do!!

    Seeing Jim Fanning in ’69 is amazing. I’ve had the opportunity to meet him and see him at several CBHFM inductions and events. He’s a real gentleman and a Canadian baseball legend.

      • I was in a town called St. Georges de Beauce that is about an hour SE of Quebec City on the other side of the St. Lawrence. It has about 20,000 people. I spent two summers there as a French student in university. I returned once more for vacation. I had the chance to board with two Quebec families and really get to know a lot about Quebec and its people. I used to read the Quebec City daily “Le Soleil” which was a tabloid that often put the Expos on the front, similar to the T.O. Sun. It’s quite easy to see how Expo players took to the culture, people and places of Montreal. It’s really a fantastic and friendly place!

  3. Thanks for writing this. I love the team and I met Jim Fanning last 2nd of september 2012 in Toronto when he came to assist the ExposNation in their first reunion at an mlb game. He will probably be there this year also on july 20th 2013 when we meet again.

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