WASHINGTON -- Nationals manager Dave Martinez walked into his pregame press conference wearing the full, powder blue Expos uniform. He joked that he wished it was still the same size as his playing uniform, spoke a few lines of French and reflected on the fond memories he had of playing in Montreal, where he spent parts of four seasons from 1988-91.
“When I first got traded there [from the Cubs], because I was young, it was kind of a culture shock, it really was,” Martinez said. “Going to a different country, you go to the grocery store, people spoke French. So, it was a learning process. I enjoyed the city very much, the people, the fans, it was awesome.
“I’ve always said hopefully they bring a team back there.”
Saturday’s game against the Royals at Nationals Park served as a throwback to 1969, as the Nationals celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Expos joining Major League Baseball. The Nationals wore the famous powder blue Expos jerseys, while the Royals, who entered the American League the same year, also wore their retro jerseys from ’69. The pregame playlist included music from the '60s, and concessions at Nationals Park featured some Canadian-flavored themes. Even the bullpen cart got fitted with an Expos cap on the roof instead of the usual curly W.
It’s the first time the Nationals have embraced their Canadian heritage and worn the old Expos uniforms. Several members of the organization still have ties to its time in Montreal.
Martinez and third-base coach Bobby Henley both played for the Expos. Several non-uniform personnel have ties to the Expos, including MASN TV analyst F.P. Santangelo, who also played in Montreal; clubhouse and equipment manager Mike Wallace; and Rob McDonald, the team’s vice president of clubhouse operations and travel.
“It’s kind of weird because we haven’t worn it in so many years,” Martinez said. “But I think it’s neat.”
And there was a buzz in the Nationals' clubhouse prior to the game, as Hall of Famer and Expos legend Vladimir Guerrero was in attendance to throw out the first pitch. A few players rushed to get their pictures taken with Guerrero, including Victor Robles and Juan Soto, fellow outfielders from the Dominican Republic.
“I feel very, very happy to see someone wearing [the Expos uniform],” Guerrero said through an interpreter. “This is the first team which gave me the opportunity to play professional baseball.
“I enjoyed the time when I'd ride the train to the ballpark from my apartment, and a lot of the fans would recognize me. No issues, they were all friendly, and they made me feel important. Those were some of the best memories I had.”