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Move produces mixed emotions
09/30/2004 12:35 AM ET
MONTREAL -- It was 3:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday afternoon when Expos president Tony Tavares held a team meeting to inform the players that the Expos franchise would be relocated to Washington, D.C., starting in 2005.

According to manager Frank Robinson, Tavares asked the players if they had any questions about the move, but there weren't any.

"I don't know if there are any questions to be asked," said first baseman Brad Wilkerson, who is the team's alternate player representative. "I think we are in a state of mind where we are just doing what everybody is telling us to do the last couple of years."

Wilkerson said the players would know more about the relocation process on Friday, when they have a meeting with Gene Orza, the chief operating officer of the Major League Baseball Players Association.

In the meantime, Wilkerson and the rest of the Expos didn't hide their feelings about playing their home games in another city. The reaction was mixed, including positive feelings about playing all their home games in one city and sad reactions regarding leaving friends behind in Montreal.

Wilkerson, one of the few Expos who spent time during the winter in Montreal, said it's hard to leave a place where he started his big league career.

"It's tough. It was a good four years," Wilkerson said. "This is the first place that gave me an opportunity in the big leagues. I feel bad for the city.

"I visit some friends during the wintertime. That's what it's all about. It's not just about coming here and playing baseball. It's about enjoying your stay in the city. I made a lot of good friends, and there are a lot of them I'm going to miss."

Reliever Joey Eischen, who has played in the Expos organization on and off for 10 seasons, said he was saddened to hear the Expos were going to be relocated. He was mostly concerned about the people in the organization who might lose their jobs.

"I'm happy that the team is going to find a new home, but there are a lot of my friends that will be out of work," Eischen said. "There are coaches out there that don't know if they are going to have work. I don't know who is going to be in charge of the team. I don't know if I'll be here. For me, it's not a very good day. It's a good day, I guess, for the Expos. There's a good and bad in everything."

Eischen wasn't the only one that was concerned about the people that work in the Expos organization.

   Brian Schneider  /   C
Born: 11/26/76
Height: 6'0"
Weight: 200 lbs
Bats: L / Throws: R

"The news that we got from D.C. was good, but I felt bad for a lot of people who are losing their jobs. It's more than just losing a team. We have to start thinking more about that," said team representative Brian Schneider.

In fact, Tavares said most of the employees would not be going to Washington because of visa problems.

"[If] you have some specialized training, like your baseball coaches and managers, or anyone who is involved in the day-to-day operations, they are easy qualified for visas," Tavares said. "The majority of people are difficult, if not impossible, to qualify for visas. The rules are, if there is a job that is available in the United States, and you have competent, qualified people down there, they want you to hire U.S. citizens."

Robinson, who reiterated that he would like to manage the Expos in 2005, said the fans in Washington would have some talent to root for.

"We have some good young players that are here. We have some veteran players here. It's a good place to start from," Robinson said. "But there's some work to be done for this ballclub in order for it to be a very competitive club. On any given day, this ballclub, right now, can compete with any ballclub in the National League, but the club is very thin over a 162-game schedule. We have to play the regular players almost every day."

One of those young players that might make an impact in Washington is outfielder Terrmel Sledge, who is having a solid rookie season. He said he is glad the Expos will no longer have to play a split home schedule, as they have the past two years.

"Hearing the news is a sigh of relief," Sledge said. "It's knowing that we are playing our home games in one city -- it's a good feeling. It was great to play in Montreal. The attendance, as usual, was down, but you can't blame the fans. They are fed up. I don't know the whole history, but I know they used to pack the house."

Expos general manager Omar Minaya, who is reportedly taking a job as head of baseball operations with the Mets, refused to talk about his situation.

"It's just a difficult day here in Montreal -- for the whole staff," Minaya said. "It's an emotional day for all of us who have worked here. My experience in Montreal has been wonderful. I've always said this is one of the best cities in North America. I always said, it was Europe with a baseball game."

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.