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Expos Fest: How One Fan Honors His Niece And Keeps Montreal's Baseball Flame Alive09:04
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Perry Giannias has the world's biggest private collection of Montreal Expos' memorabilia. (Eva Blue)
Perry Giannias has the world's biggest private collection of Montreal Expos' memorabilia. (Eva Blue)

Among the many sporting events canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic were a pair of baseball games between the Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees scheduled to be played in Olympic Stadium, the former home of the Montreal Expos.

The weekend would have kicked off with Expos Fest, a fan event celebrating the history of Montreal’s dearly departed team. For the man behind this celebration, Expos Fest is about a lot more than nostalgia.

Tucked away in the basement of a nondescript house in the Montreal suburb of Laval, there is an unexpected piece of baseball history. Several pieces, actually. This is where 53-year-old Perry Giannias, the man affectionately known by area sports fans as “Perry Gee,” has filled much of his home, and all of his basement, with the world’s largest private collection of memorabilia dedicated to his beloved hometown team, the Montreal Expos.

"You know, I have over 200 game-used jerseys," he says. "I have about 400 game-used bats. You know, I have Gary Carter’s — the last jersey he wore when he doubled over Andre Dawson’s head at the Big O in 1992. It was his last trip to the plate, his last at-bat as a Major League ballplayer. So, those are memories that I love and I’ll always cherish."

A Mission To Preserve The Expos' Memory

Perry first fell in love with the team when his Greek immigrant parents started taking him to Expos games in the 1970s. In 2004, with the last-place Expos already playing some home games in San Juan, Puerto Rico, the team announced it would be moving to Washington, D.C.

A 2003 Expos home game in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)
A 2003 Expos home game in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez/Primera Hora/Getty Images)

Perry wasn’t interested in attending his favorite team’s funeral. Instead, he became obsessed with preserving its memory and began compiling a sprawling tribute to the club. He even tracked down a certain sensitive item that once belonged to Expos ace Steve Rogers.

"I respect the man to death," Perry says. "And I’ll even buy his underwear."

Perry finally met Rogers at an event a few years ago, and things got a little awkward.

"I said, 'Steve, please don’t judge me. Can you please sign your long johns that you wore back in the '80s?' " Perry recalls. "And, uh, he looked at me kind of funny, and he says, 'Yeah, Perry. I’ll sign 'em for you. Please never show them to me again.' "

An Unexpected Death

For his entire adulthood, Perry Gee’s life revolved around two things: the Expos and his family.

"We’re a tight group, you know? We’re together all the time," Perry says.

One day in 2014, Perry was with his 5-year-old niece, Catherine Demes, whom the family affectionately called Kat.

Kat Demes. (Courtesy Perry Giannias)
Kat Demes. (Courtesy Perry Giannias)

"And my sister-in-law asked me, 'Do you see her eye? It seems to be floating in a different direction,' " Perry says. "And I go, 'OK, don’t worry about that. I’ve seen it before. Take her to the optometrist. They’re gonna prescribe some glasses. And, you know, maybe within six months to a year it will straighten out the eye, and it’s not a big deal.'

"So little did I know, of course, that wasn’t the case. They went to an optometrist. The optometrist said, ‘This has got nothing to do with her eye. You’ve gotta go see a neurologist.’ And from there we got the diagnosis that, basically, she had a year to live."

Kat was diagnosed with DIPG, or diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma, an aggressive type of brain tumor found in young children.

"As a family, that just totally blew us away. And, true to their word, she passed away in July of 2015," Perry says. "We needed to do something, so my sister-in-law wouldn’t lose her mind. Because you could go through anything in life but losing your child, I don’t see it getting any worse than that. So we decided to do a fundraiser and to remember her forever."

As Perry wondered what he could do to preserve his niece’s memory, he realized ...

"The only thing I really knew well was the Montreal Expos," he says.

Creation Of Expos Fest

Perry decided he would create an event that would provide a meeting place for his fellow Expos fans and raise funds that would go towards fighting DIPG. He called it “Expos Fest.”

With an Expos museum already at his disposal, Perry immediately began reaching out to people who had been a part of Expos history. One of the first people he contacted was Jacques Doucet, the French play-by-play voice of the Expos for 33 seasons.

"He called me up, and he says, 'Jacques,' he says, 'I would like you to be part of Expos Fest.' I did not know what Expos Fest was,' " Jacques says. "I had seen a couple of emails go through my account, but I did not know exactly what it was. And, when I found out it was for charity purposes and that former Expos will be on hand, I readily accepted."

Perry's Gary Carter jersey. (Eva Blue)
Perry's Gary Carter jersey. (Eva Blue)

Perry hoped Expos Fest would be a fun time that would raise some money for a good cause. That first event ended up drawing 1,000 people and raised $100,000.

"It was pretty crazy," Perry says. "It was just funny that, um, it came to that, you know. It just shows you the love of the Montreal Expos, right? It just shows you that people loved, and still love, our team. Like the good folks at Expos Nation say, 'You know what? The Expos aren't dead. We're just on a hiatus.' "

Will Baseball Return To Montreal?

By the time Perry launched Expos Fest, there was already talk of bringing Major League Baseball back to Montreal.  Two years earlier, the Toronto Blue Jays had started an annual tradition of hosting their final two spring training games at Olympic Stadium. The 2014 contests against the New York Mets drew a combined crowd of more than 96,000 fans.

"I mean, it was unbelievable," Jacques says. "I recall when I left home, and I took the same way that I used to travel when I was working with the Expos at the 'Big O.' And all kinds of memories came back to me. And then, when I parked inside the stadium and I opened my eyes, when I saw the field that was ready for baseball, for a moment, I said, 'Is this for Opening Day?' "

Before we proceed, a little inside baseball, if you will. I grew up in Montreal watching the Expos in the '90s. And when the team left for Washington DC in 2004, I was convinced they would never come back. After all, the team lost, the fans stayed away and Olympic Stadium was in a constant state of disrepair. Turns out I was wrong, and people like Perry are part of the reason.

Stephen Bronfman, son of former Expos owner, Charlie Bronfman, has led the effort to bring Major League Baseball back to Montreal. And there have been rumors about the Tampa Bay Rays splitting their home games in Montreal.

'Kat Has Kept The Flame Alive'

No plans are set in stone yet. But despite my skepticism, baseball could come back to Montreal. Expos Fest helped keep that baseball flame alive in the city.

"Every year there are five or six or seven former Expos players that come and attend the Expos Fest," Jacques says. "All those former players are wishing that Montreal would get back [in] the Major League picture. So all those former players add their voice to the voice of the fans, that everybody wants Major League Baseball to be back in Montreal."

"My niece Kat has kept the flame alive, which is, you know, I get goosebumps when I say it."

Perry Giannias

Last year’s Expos Fest charity gala raised $200,000 in a single night. With former Expo Larry Walker being enshrined into the Baseball Hall of Fame this year and the Washington Nationals, the team formerly known as the Expos, entering the season as World Series champions, the buzz this year is palpable. It's been a remarkable journey for a celebration, not just of a team, but of a little girl, too.

"We’ve kept the flame ... " Perry says. And then he corrects himself. "My niece Kat has kept the flame alive, which is, you know, I get goosebumps when I say it. But, when the Expos come back, whether it’s the Expos or whether it’s another form of baseball, she had a large part in baseball coming back to Montreal. Because the celebration of her life is hand-in-hand with the celebration of baseball in Montreal."

This year's Expos Fest has been delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic. For more information on the Expos Fest, visit ExposFest.com.

This segment aired on March 21, 2020.

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