Nationals with ties to Expos glad to see franchise celebrated

Mike Wallace opened up his closet this morning and instead of grabbing one of his standard-issue Nationals polo shirts instead dug deep to locate one in a different shade of blue. Across the left chest it said “Expos.” On the right sleeve was a logo for the 2004 MLB Japan All-Star Series.

Wallace hadn’t worn the shirt since that day in November 2004 when he became the last person to wear Expos gear in an official capacity. He noted that outfielder Brad Wilkerson, who played for the MLB All-Stars on that trip, removed his jersey first.

And when Wallace, the franchise’s longtime clubhouse and equipment manager, put that polo shirt on this morning, he became the first to wear Expos gear in an official capacity in 15 years. And that brought back a rush of memories.

“Going into my closet and pulling this shirt out, I started remembering the end of ‘04,” Wallace said. “The last game of the year. And then going to Japan, Wilky and I. And then moving everything to Melbourne. Then also remembering Frank (Robinson) and remembering the trips to Puerto Rico, and our trip from Puerto Rico to Seattle.”

Martinez-In-Expos-Jersey-Presser.jpgThe Nationals have created plenty of their own history in the last 15 years, but they’ve always tried to be mindful of the fact their franchise existed for 3 1/2 decades prior to that in Montreal, with no shortage of history created north of the border.

And so today, for the first time, they are wearing Expos jerseys (1969 powder blue throwbacks to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the franchise’s debut) and caps (the tri-colored version). They invited Hall of Famer Vladimir Guerrero to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. They’ll sing “O Canada” along with “The Star Spangled Banner.”

Whether it means much to Washington fans, some of whom will always feel a connection to the two versions of the Senators that played here from 1901-71, just know that it does mean a lot to the handful of team employees who relocated with the Expos prior to the 2005 season.

At the time, there were about a dozen front office employees, plus a full coaching staff and plenty of players, who made the move from Montreal to Washington. Today, only five employees remain: Wallace, visiting clubhouse manager Matt Rosenthal, equipment manager Dan Wallin, vice president of clubhouse operations and team travel Rob McDonald and bullpen catcher Nilson Robledo.

“It’s slowly becoming a smaller fraternity,” Wallace said.

Those who wore the Expos uniform, including current Nationals manager Davey Martinez, are glad to see the franchise recognized today.

“Absolutely,” Guerrero said, via interpreter Octavio Martinez. “It’s a franchise with a lot of history. There were a lot of good years there, and a lot of great players went through there. It’s always one of those things, you want the teams you played for to still be recognized. It was a great franchise. And now that they’re completing their 50th anniversary, they asked me to come here and throw out the first pitch. That’s very exciting. I’m very excited about that.”

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