Perry Giannias is one of the biggest Expos fans you’ll ever meet. Over the years, he has built an impressive and possibly unmatched collection of Expos memorabilia. His basement is a shrine to the team and its players.
He has a story for every piece in his collection. He loves to reminisce about the different eras of the team. Just don’t bring up the bad times like the player’s strike of 1994 or the dreaded “Blue Monday”.
But, as much as Giannias loves the Expos, he cares even more about his family.
“The only thing I know, there’s two things I love in my life, my family and the Montreal Expos,” Giannias proclaimed.
On April 2, Giannias will proudly pay tribute to both of those loves at ExposFest, a charity fundraiser he started with his family last year. The event is a joyous occasion for families who love baseball. It’s a day to celebrate the Expos’ history and to provide kid-friendly entertainment at an affordable price.
It’s also an opportunity to raise money for a good cause. All proceeds go to the Kat D DIPG Foundation at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. DIPG is an aggressive form of brain tumour that affects small children and took the life of Giannias’ five-year-old niece Catherine.
ExposFest is a very personal labour of love that allows Giannias to deal with two important losses in his life. It’s also the culmination of Giannias’ journey from Expos fan and memorabilia collector to crusader against a rare form of cancer.
Collecting Memorabilia to Preserve the History of the Expos
Giannias grew up watching the Expos and collecting baseball cards like so many other kids in Montreal. As he grew older, he became more interested in collecting.
In 2004, his hobby turned into a full-blown obsession when the Expos left the city. Like so many baseball fans in this city, the loss of the Expos was hard for Perry Giannias to swallow.
“My game-used collection really took off after 2004, when I really, like everybody else, thought the Expos were ‘done-zo’ with and we’re never going to see them again,” Giannias remembered. “It really hit me like a ton of bricks. I just wanted to be surrounded by my heroes of the past and stuff that I could see every day and still remember what it was like to have a baseball team.”
Giannias has filled his basement with rare items spanning the history of the Expos and Montreal Royals. Jerseys, jackets and autographed baseballs cover every corner of the space.
He even has Andre Dawson’s Gold Glove award and the helmet Gary Carter wore when he got his last hit at the Olympic Stadium. Giannias also shares pieces from his collection on the Facebook page “Montreal Expos Museum”.
Eventually, Giannias would like to display his collection for all to see if a Major League Baseball team returns to Montreal.
“My dream would be, once we get a ballpark, maybe we could find a spot somewhere near. It could even be like a restaurant, museum kind of setting. It would be really cool to have that near the ballpark, or maybe a spot at the ballpark,” Giannias said. “Something like that to remember how amazing we were.”
Getting Involved in the Fight Against DIPG
Whatever Giannias may have felt following the loss of his childhood baseball team surely paled in comparison to the heartbreak he and his family would experience in 2015.
Personal tragedy struck Giannias’ family when his five-year-old niece Catherine “Kat” Demes was diagnosed with a DIPG brain tumour. Doctors gave her nine to twelve months to live. She passed away nine months later, six months before her sixth birthday.
Struck by grief and searching for answers, Giannias and his family decided to take action.
Using the connections he had established with former Expos players over the years through his memorabilia purchases, Giannias came up with the fundraiser idea that would become ExposFest.
“That’s the best way, we thought, to honour my niece Catherine,” Giannias explained. “It’s better than just crying every day and stuff like that, because there’s nothing worse than losing a child.”
“You always think it happens to somebody else, but when it happens to your family, it’s just devastating. So, we want to turn, you know like the old saying, lemons into lemonade,” Giannias said.
So far, the foundation his family set up has raised almost $140,000 in over a year and a half. For a disease that gets little coverage in the press and even less funding for research to find a cure, that is a significant amount. Giannias hopes this year’s event will help the foundation surpass $200,000.
Keeping It in the Family and About the Kids
One of the biggest draws to ExposFest has been the participation of former players. Giannias has attracted players like Ellis Valentine, Jose Vidro, Vladimir Guerrero and many more to the event. This year, he has attracted nine former Expos players (including Hall of Famer Andre Dawson) as well as local star Éric Gagné.
Back in November, Giannias also held a sports celebrity gala to raise funds for the foundation. His focus remains on keeping ExposFest geared to kids even though he admits the gala was much less work. Exposfest is free for children under 12 years old, which surely cuts into the amount of money Giannias and his family could raise. Giannias is steadfast that the event is not just about raising money.
“ExposFest is a celebration of the family, my niece and baseball,” Giannias explained. “We want it to be a family event, because (Catherine) was a little girl. She was five years old. We want to honour her memory by having as many families and kids there because that’s what baseball was.”
Giannias and his family have been working on the event since November. Giannias is proud to call ExposFest a small family-led venture.
“One hundred per cent of what we make goes straight to the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Kat D DIPG Foundation. We don’t have a CEO. We don’t have a treasurer,” Giannias assured. “Whatever is done is our time and we don’t want it any other way.”
It should come as no surprise to anyone that Giannias is a certified daycare provider who runs two daycares in the Laval area with his wife. He obviously cares deeply about children.
Having an Impact on Local Baseball Culture
It’s that genuine desire to give back to the community that has allowed Giannias to forge deep connections with the former players who make ExposFest a popular event among the city’s die-hard baseball fans.
Giannias insists that making connections with former players has been easy since most are happy to join his fight against DIPG.
“I think they can feel my passion for the team and I don’t ask anything of them. The only thing I ask of my Expos is to do our fundraiser so we can raise money for the Montreal Children’s Hospital,” Giannias said. “There’s no ulterior motive that I have with them.”
Giannias hopes that his event helps in the quest to bring a team back to Montreal.
“ExposFest makes you remember how great the Montreal Expos were and our heroes of old and how much they loved the city,” Giannias said with enthusiasm. “I think it’s a great weekend to celebrate baseball and the Montreal Expos.”
Perry Giannias is making a lasting impression on his community by honouring his family and his beloved Expos.
So, if you want to support a great cause and relive the glory days of the Expos, pay Giannias a visit at Plaza Centre-Ville between 10:00 AM and 5:00 PM for ExposFest.