The year was 2005 – New England was fresh off of celebrating the Boston Red Sox breaking an 86-year-long curse. They were looking forward to seeing if they could defend their World Series Championship. They were also celebrating the New England Patriots defeating the Philadelphia Eagles to win their second consecutive Super Bowl (and third in four years).
Things looked good for New England sports fans in the spring of 2005. Vermont baseball fans were even looking to see the Expos take the field once again.
Any knowledgeable baseball fan knows that the Expos said their final farewells at the end of the 2004 season. That was when the team departed Montreal for Washington, DC, where they became the Nationals. The Montreal Expos were a local team for fans in the more northern reaches of New England, and I’ve written about that here and here.
But this isn’t about the Montreal Expos. It’s about the Vermont Expos. The Vermont Expos were the Class A Short-Season affiliate of the Montreal Expos. When the Expos left Montreal, the Vermont Expos retained their affiliation with the Nationals but kept the Expos name.
This created perhaps one of baseball’s weirdest trivia facts. The last team to play an entire season under the Expos name took the field, not in Montreal, Quebec, but rather in Burlington, Vermont.
This is the story of the 2005 Vermont Expos and their search for a new identity.
History of the Vermont Expos
The Vermont Expos played in the New York-Penn League, which disbanded in 2020 as a part of baseball’s contraction of the minor leagues. The team arrived in Burlington in 1994, ending a six-year gap where Vermont had no minor league baseball.
Burlington had most recently had a Double-A team in the Eastern League from 1984-1988. The most memorable thing about that team was that Ken Griffey Jr. played there during their one-year affiliation with the Seattle Mariners in 1988. Before THAT, you have to go back to 1955 to find minor league baseball in Vermont.
The Montreal Expos announced their move to DC in September 2004. The decision and its late timing put the Vermont team in an unfortunate position. In October, the Vermont Expos announced they would keep the name for one more season before transitioning to something more local.
The decision was partly based on an important restriction on name changes for minor league teams: they only had 60 days after the end of the season to notify Minor League Baseball of any changes. As reported in the Burlington Free Press on October 27, 2004, Team General Manager C.J. Knudsen said the team wanted more time to rebrand themselves into something more permanent.
In October, the team put out an initial poll asking about a possible rebranding in 2006 and beyond. As reported by the Burlington Free Press on June 14, 2005 – 60% of the 2,000 fans who responded wanted to keep the Expos name.
The remaining 40% were divided among several names, with the top options being the Vermont Nationals and Vermont Champs (a reference to Lake Champlain and the Vermont Expos mascot Champ).
On June 14th, the team formally announced that it was seeking fan input on a new name, with Knudsen explicitly saying that the team wanted a name that honored its location in Vermont. Suggestions were taken until July 24th and could be submitted online or at select physical locations.
You may ask yourself, though, why not revert to a historical team name? The problem was that it didn’t exist for Burlington. In fact, every Burlington based minor league team just mirrored its parent team’s name.
The Burlington A’s, Vermont Reds, Vermont Mariners, and Vermont Expos were just mirrors of their parent club. It was a virtual blank slate.
The team did commit to keeping the one unique aspect of Vermont baseball culture – their mascot, Champ.
On July 22nd, the Burlington Free Press reported that after more than 15,000 submissions, the top three suggestions were Vermont Champs, Green Mountain Boys, and Vermont Lake Monsters. The team reported that “Champs” was the top choice thus far, but Knudsen reiterated that the final selection would rest with the team.
How was this team on the field? Fairly mediocre and perennial basement dwellers. The distinguishing highlight of the season was a bench-clearing brawl in late July against the New Jersey Cardinals that saw three Expos suspended and 22 others fined.
The Expos finished the season with an abysmal 28-48 record. They did show an upward trajectory, though, posting an 11-27 first half and then a 17-21 second half, including a seven-game win streak to end the season.
On September 8th, they played their final game under the Expos moniker, a 15-9 victory over the Tri-City ValleyCats on September 8th in Troy, New York.
On November 15th, the Expos were officially retired, and the Vermont Lake Monsters were born. The announcement was made at the University Mall in South Burlington where it was noted that the team had received more than 30,000 suggestions.
And as many of you know – the Vermont Lake Monsters still exist today. When the New York-Penn League disbanded at the end of the 2020 season, the Lake Monsters moved to the Futures Collegiate Baseball League.
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