WASHINGTON -- What would have normally been a run-of-the-mill mid-summer baseball game between the Washington Nationals and Kansas City Royals saw a powder blue twist on Saturday evening.
This season marks the 50th anniversary of the Montreal Expos, who we relocated to Washington in 2004 to become the Nationals. To honor the previous iteration of their team, the Nationals sported powder blue uniforms with tri-color caps during the game.
“They are so sick,” Nationals closer Sean Doolittle said. “I love that they went all the way back to 1969. They had some great uniforms over the years, but the older the better I think. I love the baby blues. The Expos’ logo is one of the more iconic logos in baseball history, so the fact that it is front and center on the uniform is really cool.”
Not only did players wear Expos gear, but graphics around Nationals Park donned the famous Expos logo, “O Canada” was sung before the Star-Spangled Banner and National Baseball Hall of Fame member Vladimir Guerrero was in attendance to throw out the first pitch.
“I feel very happy and excited to see someone wearing it," said Guerrero, the Expos leader in home runs and batting average, through interpreter Octavio Martinez. "It’s the first team that gave me an opportunity to play professional baseball. I played over 10 years there, with four years in the minors and seven years in the big leagues, so I’m very excited.”
Nationals manager Dave Martinez also played for the Expos early in his career, after being traded to Montreal by the Chicago Cubs in 1988. Martinez said that his son was wearing his original jersey in the morning before the game and that he is glad the Nationals are honoring one of his previous clubs.
“I think it’s definitely important,” Martinez said. “Especially if you look across the board of how many good players played in Montreal and came out of the organization. It’s pretty cool to recognize. Even now, every time I look up I see Expos hats still.”
The Nationals still have at least one direct connection to Montreal: third base coach Bob Henley was drafted by the Expos in 1991 and is in his 17th year as a coach in the organization. Guerrero has fond memories of his old teammate.
“We played for the first time together in Double-A, and I first saw him in rookie ball,” Guerrero said. “He was nimble, and I saw he was a really good catcher. The first time I played with him was in 1996, and he was a great teammate.”
First baseman Ryan Zimmerman was drafted by the Nationals in their inaugural 2005 season, just missing out on playing in Montreal. The longest-tenured Nationals player said he likes the idea of this throwback game.
“It’s cool,” Zimmerman said. “Obviously I just missed [Montreal], but a lot of the guys that I played with when I first came up played there. They said it was an awesome place to play and the city was great. It’s fun to do something like this, to go back a little and think about where this team came from.”
Zimmerman said he liked the look of the uniforms but pointed out that they did not have the mesh that helps keep players cool.
“They’re a little hotter, but it’s worth it for one day,” he said.
Despite the excitement of players and coaches, some fans are upset with the Nationals decision to sport Expos uniforms -- especially those from Montreal.
“I can understand the way that they feel,” Doolittle said. “Their team got taken away from them. That’s got to be tough. Especially now too, the way that MLB continues to use Montreal as a bargaining chip with what’s going on with Tampa.
“I hope that the uniforms today remind people of the baseball history that happened in Montreal. Even if it’s just for one day, we can focus on that and celebrate that rather than some of the other stuff.”
At the end of the day, the most obvious part of any throwback game will always be the uniforms. The powder blue on the diamond was hard to miss, and the players enjoyed wearing them. Their manager remembered how popular the color was in times gone by.
“This is actually different,” Martinez said while looking down at his uniform with a grin. “Back when we played, powder blue was in. The Royals, [Expos], Cardinals. A lot of teams wore powder blue. That was the end deal on the road. Would I like to see a powder blue for [the Nationals]? I don’t know. It’s a red, white and blue kind of place.”
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